With wealthier nations enjoying a more comfortable sedentary lifestyle, the study said that one third of women and a quarter of men worldwide are in the line of fire for heart disease, diabetes and cancer. unless they increase their physical activity.
"Insufficient physical activity is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases and has a negative effect on mental health and quality of life," said the study of global exercise levels published Wednesday by The Lancet Global Health Journal. .
The WHO recommends that each adult do at least 150 minutes of "moderate intensity" exercise, such as brisk walking, swimming or bicycling gently, every week, or 75 minutes of "vigorous intensity" activity, such as running or practicing team sports.
The study tracked the activity levels of 1.9 million people in 168 countries around the world during 2016.
The researchers found that there has been no improvement in physical activity levels since 2001, despite numerous public health initiatives that extol the benefits of exercise.
According to the data, more than a quarter of the world's adults (1.4 billion people) were insufficiently active.
"We definitely have not done enough" to encourage people to exercise, Regina Guthold, the lead author of the WHO study, told AFP.
"Basically, we have not seen progress."
The authors of the study highlighted several worrisome trends, including a large difference in exercise rates between rich and poor nations, and between men and women.
Wealth, gender gaps
Insufficient levels of activity to protect non-communicable killers, including dementia and cardiovascular disease, are more than doubled in high-income countries compared to developing countries.
Guthold said the link between lifestyle in wealthier nations – more time indoors, more office hours, more easily accessible high-calorie meals – and lower levels of exercise, was part of a "clear pattern." of poorer health with urbanization.
"As countries become urbanized, people who used to be, for example, farmers and did a lot of physical activity through their work, suddenly lived in an urban environment where they could be without work or change to a sedentary job, what societies need to compensate, "she said.
In four countries: Kuwait, American Samoa, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, more than half of the adults were classified as insufficiently active.
In Kuwait, a state of the Gulf of oil where temperatures regularly exceed 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit), a whopping two-thirds (67 percent) of adults did not exercise enough.
Melody Ding of the University of Sydney, who worked at the newspaper, said there were a variety of reasons why some countries were more active than others, including "biological, psychosocial, institutional, cultural and environmental barriers."
"I consider that one of the biggest barriers is our environment: physical activity was eliminated from life, desk work replaced labor, elevators replaced stairs and automobiles replaced active trips," he said. to the AFP.
"The technological advance has made our life more convenient but also less active".
Women continue to lag behind men in almost every region of the world, with the highest gender gender gap in Bangladesh, Eritrea, India, Iraq and the Philippines, according to the study.
"In these environments, women are often expected to be at home, take care of the children, run the house and, sometimes, not always have time to exercise," Guthold said.
A bright spot on the global exercise map was Southeast Asia, where women were as active as men in the only region where inactivity has declined since 2001.