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What are countries doing to make their citizens more active?

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What are countries doing to make their citizens more active? New country factsheets and reports show what works.

WHO recently published new global ‘Guidelines on Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour’, an update to the first global guidelines established in 2010. Based on the most recent evidence for how physical activity can improve health, the guidelines are a fundamental tool for countries to develop incentives and programmes to make their citizens more active and healthier.

In the WHO European Region, there is an array of excellent examples where national governments, civil society organizations and local communities have taken action to help people to include physical activity as part of their daily lives. WHO/Europe is today publishing a set of reports that provides an impression of these actions across the Region, both at the national level and in local communities.

Country physical activity factsheets

Two new ‘Physical Activity Country Factsheets’, for Iceland and Switzerland, provide inspiration as great efforts have been made in each of these countries to increase the physical activity levels of people there. These country factsheets provide a snapshot of the current epidemiological and policy situation related to physical activity in each country. When it comes to promoting physical activity, these countries have diverse contexts, but there are also many similarities. The key settings in which physical activity promotion is most effective and needed – such as in schools and workplaces, or through the health and sports sectors – are the same. Each country factsheet provides information on how many people are physically active, what the national government is doing to increase people’s physical activity levels, as well as brief success stories of promoting physical activity in community settings. The factsheets provide important information and help to identify current gaps and future opportunities for those working to promote physical activity and prevent noncommunicable diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

“The process of developing a country factsheet for Iceland has been useful to identify our strengths and weaknesses, as well as information gaps that could be addressed to further develop our work to promote physical activity,” says Gígja Gunnarsdóttir, Directorate of Health Iceland. “We can also now compare our progress with other countries and share some success stories, while focusing on areas where we need improvements.”

Workplace physical activity and active travel to work

Most adults spend most of their time at work. If they are to meet the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week, it is essential that they are active before, during and after work hours. For people to walk or cycle to work, governments play an important role as safe and well-maintained infrastructure is required. Businesses can also support employees in being physically active by, for example, providing flexible working arrangements, showers and changing facilities. A report launched today, ‘Promoting physical activity in the workplace: Current status and success stories from the European Union Member States of the WHO European Region’, provides a collection of good practice examples.

Promoting health-enhancing physical activity through the sports sector

The sports sector also has a key role in promoting health-enhancing physical activity among people of all ages and physical function. ‘Sports-for-all’ programmes, which provide safe and interesting opportunities for everyone to participate in sports, as well as sports clubs that prioritize the promotion of health, are also key. Many of these examples have now been presented in a new report, ‘Promoting physical activity in the sports sector: Current status and success stories from the European Union Member States of the WHO European Region’, also launched today by WHO/Europe.

“These publications are a result of the ongoing collaboration between WHO/Europe and Member States to continually collect information on what is being done as part of a process to identify what works in practice when it comes to increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary behavior,” says Joao Breda, Head, WHO European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (NCD Office), WHO/Europe, Moscow. “Sharing challenges and success stories is one of the best ways to connect countries and establish partnerships as a way to move toward a more active and healthier region.”

These publications present just a few examples of what countries are doing to increase physical activity across the Region, and WHO/Europe will continue to work with Member States to identify and promote what works. However, more can be done, and the recent update to the WHO global guidelines will provide a push for governments to prioritize physical activity policies and accelerate action where it is most needed.

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