The World Health Organisation has called upon countries, including Nepal, in the South-East Asia Region to accelerate action to address insufficient physical activity which is as high as 74 per cent among adolescents, to arrest and reverse the growing epidemic of non-communicable diseases and promote physical and mental well-being.

"Physical activity helps prevent non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers, which continue to be leading killer diseases in the region and a risk for severe disease and deaths in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region.

The Regional Director was addressing a virtual meeting of health officials and partners from member countries where the regional roadmap for implementation of Global Action Plan for Physical Activity was launched today.

According to a press release issued by the WHO South-East Asia Regional Office, the regional roadmap aims to facilitate context-specific activities to achieve 10 per cent relative reduction of insufficient physical activity by 2025, and 15 per cent improvement in global levels by 2030. Insufficient physical activity is a leading risk factor for non-communicable diseases globally and in the South-East Asia Region.

"Countries and communities must take action to provide everyone with more opportunities to be physically active. This requires a collective effort, both national and local, across different sectors and disciplines to implement policies and solutions, appropriate to a country's cultural and social environment to promote, enable and encourage physical activity," Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

WHO has been advocating physical exercise as one of the primary preventive measure and best buys against NCDs, a flagship priority programme of the region since 2014.

"While there has been progress in terms of commitments, policies and programmes for promoting physical activity face many challenges including modern lifestyles, unhealthy work-life balance, lack of enabling and safe environment such as road safety and air pollution," Dr Khetrapal Singh said.

As per the release, the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the problems with movement restrictions and work from home mandates fuelling further the sedentary lifestyle. In addition, mental health issues have increased due to social isolation, fear, and uncertainty. Promoting physical activity requires whole of government and whole of society approach including multi-sectoral collaboration between ministries of health, youth, sports, education, urban planning, city administration, etc to create an enabling and safe environment for physical activity.

A version of this article appears in the print on November 26, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.