• Glenn Wood

WHO 2020 Guidelines on Physical Activity & Sedentary Behaviour


In 2010 the World health Organisation (WHO) published their "Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health". Latest estimates suggest that globally 27.5% of adults & 81% of adolescents do not meet these recommendations for aerobic activity. This is now updated, based on the latest evidence, and a 2020 guidelines and recommendations has been published.

There are a few changes to the guidelines in the new 202o recommendations:

First, they no longer recommend that activity should be in bouts of at least 10min, reflecting that physical activity of any bout duration is associated with improved health outcomes, including all-cause mortality.

Second, physical activity should be of 150–300min moderate intensity, and 75–150min of vigorous intensity per week, (previously this was 150 min of moderate or 75min of vigorous intensity per week). This change acknowledges that there is a range of physical activity which captures the maximal risk reductions for health outcomes associated with physical activity and going beyond this range does not appreciably further decrease the risk of major outcomes such as all-cause or CVD mortality.

Third, with respect to older adults, it is now recommended that ALL older adults emphasise functional balance and strength training to enhance functional capacity and prevent falls. This acknowledges the large volume of evidence demonstrating unequivocal beneficial effects of this physical activity type on the functional capacity and risk of falls in older people with a range of functional abilities.


Children and adolescents (aged 5–17 years), including those living with disability.

For Physical Activity it is recommended that: ► Children and adolescents should do at least an average of 60 min/day of moderate-to-vigorous intensity, mostly aerobic, physical activity, across the week; ► Vigorous-intensity aerobic activities, as well as those that strengthen muscle and bone should be incorporated at least 3 days a week.

For Sedentary Behaviour it is recommended that:

► Children and adolescents should limit the amount of time spent being sedentary, particularly the amount of recreational screen time.


Adults (aged 18–64 years) including those with chronic conditions and those living with disability

For Physical Activity it is recommended that: ► All adults should undertake regular physical activity; ► Adults should do at least 150–300 min of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity, or at least 75–150 min of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate intensity and vigorous intensity activity throughout the week for substantial health benefits; ► Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities at moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these provide additional health benefits.

Strong recommendation ► Adults may increase moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to >300 min, or do >150 min of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate-intensity and vigorous intensity activity throughout the week for additional health benefits (when not contraindicated for those with chronic conditions).

For Sedentary Behaviour it is recommended that:

► Adults should limit the amount of time spent being sedentary. Replacing sedentary time with physical activity of any intensity (including light intensity) provides health benefits; ► To help reduce the detrimental effects of high levels of sedentary behaviour on health, adults should aim to do more than the recommended levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity.


Older adults (aged 65 years and older) including those with chronic conditions and those living with disability

For Physical Activity it is recommended that: ► As part of their weekly physical activity, older adults should do varied multicomponent physical activity that emphasises functional balance and strength training at moderate or greater intensity on 3 or more days a week, to enhance functional capacity and to prevent falls.

For Sedentary Behaviour it is recommended that:

► As for adults


Pregnant and postpartum women

For Physical Activity it is recommended that:

► Undertake regular physical activity throughout pregnancy and post partum;

► Do at least 150 min of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week for substantial health benefits;

► incorporate a variety of aerobic and muscle strengthening activities. Adding gentle stretching may also be beneficial.

For Sedentary Behaviour it is recommended that:

► Pregnant and postpartum women should limit the amount of time spent being sedentary. Replacing sedentary time with physical activity of any intensity (including light intensity) provides health benefits.


Additional on safety considerations when undertaking physical activity for pregnant women are: ► Avoid physical activity during excessive heat, especially with high humidity;

► Stay hydrated by drinking water before, during and after physical activity;

► Avoid participating in activities which involve physical contact, pose a high risk of falling or might limit oxygenation (such as activities at high altitude, when not normally living at altitude);

► Avoid activities in supine position after the first trimester of pregnancy;

► Pregnant women considering athletic competition or exercising significantly above the recommended guidelines should seek supervision from a specialist healthcare provider;

► Pregnant women should be informed by their healthcare provider of the danger signs for when to stop, or limit physical activity and to consult a qualified healthcare provider immediately if they occur. ► Return to physical activity gradually after delivery and in consultation with a healthcare provider in the case of delivery by caesarean section.

Key Messages

► For all populations, the benefits of doing physical activity and limiting sedentary behaviour outweighed the potential harms.

► Risks can be managed by gradual increase in the amount and intensity of physical activity.

► Some physical activity is better than none for those not currently meeting these recommendations,

► Individuals should start with small amounts of physical activity and gradually increase frequency, intensity and duration over time.




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