Countries fail to promote physical activity;  Study links exercise to vaccine effectiveness - Health Policy Watch

Countries fail to promote physical activity; Study links exercise to vaccine effectiveness – Health Policy Watch

Exercise is an essential part of good health.

Most countries are failing miserably to promote physical exercise while inactivity plays a major role in heart disease, obesity and diabetes, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO just came out 2022 State of the World Physical Activity Report extent to which governments are implementing recommendations to increase physical activity at all ages and abilities.

Data from 194 countries show that less than half of countries have a national physical activity policy, and only 30% have physical activity guidelines for all age groups. Just over 40% of countries have roads designed to allow safe walking and cycling.

“We need more countries to step up the implementation of policies to help people be more active through walking, cycling, sports and other physical activities. The benefits are enormous, not only for the physical and mental health of individuals, but also for societies, environments and economies,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. “We hope that countries and partners will use this report to build more active, healthier and fairer societies for all.

The economic burden of physical inactivity is significant, and the cost of treating new cases of preventable non-communicable diseases (NCDs) will reach nearly $300 billion by 2030, according to WHO.

To help countries increase physical activity, the WHO Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030 offers 20 policy recommendations, including policies to create safer roads to encourage more active transport , provide more physical activity programs and opportunities in key settings, such as child care, schools, primary health care and the workplace.

The report calls on countries to prioritize physical activity as a key element for improving health and tackling NCDs, to integrate physical activity into all relevant policies, and to develop tools, guidance and training to improve implementation.

“It makes good public health and makes economic sense to promote more physical activity for everyone,” said Dr Ruediger Krech, director of the Department of Health.

Exercise and COVID-19 vaccine

Meanwhile, a South African observational study of more than 190,000 people suggests that regular physical activity may have boosted the effectiveness of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine.

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine Wednesday, was conducted by health insurance company, Discovery Health, and its wellness program, Vitality, in collaboration with the Witwatersrand Sport and Health Research Group and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).

It relied on anonymized medical records and recordable activity tracking data of 196,444 healthcare workers vaccinated with the J&J vaccine, who were clients of both a Discovery Health Administered Scheme program and a program of Vitality well-being.

Those who were fully vaccinated and had high levels of weekly physical activity were nearly three times less likely to be admitted to hospital than those who were vaccinated but in the low physical activity category.

“We set out to test the hypothesis that regular physical activity enhances the immune-stimulating effect of COVID-19 vaccines, reducing severe outcomes in vaccinated individuals (measured by hospital admission),” explains Discovery Health’s analytical actuary, Shirley Collie.

“The risk of hospitalization in fully immunized healthcare workers was reduced by 60% in the group that engaged in low levels of physical activity, and by 72% and 86% in the activity groups medium and high physique, respectively.”

However, Professor Glenda Gray, chair of the South African Medical Research Council, warns that more research is needed to understand why exercise enhances the effects of the vaccine.

“At this time, we suggest it could be a combination of improved antibody levels, improved T-cell immunosurveillance, and psychosocial factors,” Gray said.

Image credits: WHO/A. Loki.

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