Exercise on beach

New guidelines shift from exercise training to active living

exercise Dec 17, 2020

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently updated their 2020 Physical Activity guidelines to reflect the latest science on the health impacts of physical activity and dangers of sedentary behaviour for people of all ages. With recent global estimates showing that currently 27.5% of adults and 80% of adolescents do not meet current recommendations for aerobic exercise, the new WHO guidelines highlight the growing scientific evidence linking large amounts of sedentary time to serious health problems and a heightened risk of premature death. 

The new guidelines:

  • Recommend people aim for 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity or equivalent each week
  • Suggest people aim to exceed these weekly recommended physical activity levels provided to help counter the health harms associated with excessive sitting
  • Recommend people undertake muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week
  • Suggest adults undertake 'multi-component' physical activities which combine balance, coordination and muscle strengthening, on three or more days each week
  • Highlight the important role of wearable activity monitors in tracking and modifying physical activity to gain health benefits.
  • Emphasise the importance of all people being active and acknowledge that all movement counts when it comes to better health and wellbeing

Our take at StriveStronger

These new WHO physical activity guidelines highlight the evolving body of research demonstrating additional health benefits from physical activity such as improved cognitive health, quality of life, mental health, and better sleep. The guidelines reflect the growing body of evidence on the interplay between physical activity and sedentary behaviour, especially sitting time. While the guidelines fall short on specifying exactly how much sitting time we should avoid daily, our take at StriveStronger from research studies to date is that sitting <7 hours daily appears optimal to prevent potential health consequences and that evening sitting time may be more detrimental to our health than occupational sitting time. The guidelines suggest we incorporate activities to include elements of balance, coordination and muscle strengthening, on three or more days each week. Our experience at the StriveStonger Lab is that the majority of adults we see are unable to stand on a single leg for more than 10 seconds, have developed rounded shoulders with upper chest restricted movement and have lost their natural childhood upper and lower body muscle strength, all predictive in research studies of reduced healthspan as we get older. We often say at StriveStronger, that “what gets measured gets done” and the new guidelines highlight research supporting the potential benefits of tracking mobility across the day. We are strong advocates of using wearable technologies, and our experience is that people are often surprised at how low their actual activity levels are compared to their perceptions of daily activities levels.  Wearable monitors are now readily available, and even your mobile phone has an automatic activity tracker on it, which can also be useful to track activity while carrying it.

So in summary when it comes to physical activity, the guidelines emphasise the importance of minimal levels of activity, suggest we be consistent but vary activities to include multi-component activities and most importantly thy emphasise that any daily activity is, of course, better than no activity


Reference: Bull FC, Al-Ansari SS, Biddle S, et al

World Health Organization 2020 guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour

British Journal of Sports Medicine 2020;54:1451-1462.

Access the full scientific paper here: https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/54/24/1451

Download the WHO guideline evidence index here: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240015111


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