According to this first study to estimate global physical activity trends over time, there has been little progress in improving physical activity levels between 2001 and 2016, and if current trends continue, the 2025 global activity target of a 10-percent relative reduction in insufficient physical activity will not be met.
In 159 of 168 countries, the prevalence of insufficient physical activity was lower in men than in women, with a difference of at least 10 percentage points in 65 countries, and a difference of more than 20 percentage points in nine countries, including Bangladesh. In restrictive Saudi Arabia and Iraq, for instance, more than half of all adults were insufficiently active, the study found.
"Although a recent NCD policy survey showed that nearly three quarters of countries report having a policy or action plan to tackle physical inactivity, few have been implemented to have national impact", Bull said.
Wealthier countries have transitioned towards sedentary occupations, more recreation and motorized transport, and this could explain the higher levels of inactivity compared with lower-income countries where both work and transportation often require physical activity, the authors wrote. One in three women and one in four men do not take enough exercise or move about enough, too often sitting at desks all day at work, in front of the TV in the evening and travelling by vehicle.
Those who were classed as inactive did less than 150 minutes of moderate exercise - or 75 minutes at a vigorous intensity - a week.
Dr Mike Brannan, national lead for physical activity at Public Health England, said: "These figures highlight the global issue of inactivity and the United Kingdom is no exception".
In addition to the multiple health benefits of physical activity, societies that are more active can generate additional returns on investment including a reduced use of fossil fuels, cleaner air and less congested, safer roads.
The activity level has remained unchanged globally in almost two decades. In 2001, there were only 31% people that exercised less compared to 37% in 2016.
The authors called for a significant increase in national action is urgently needed in most countries to scale-up implementation of effective policies.
In June, a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found only 23 percent of Americans were getting enough exercise. As a next step the researchers would work on assessing the levels of activities among the children and youth.
The results suggested "that improving sidewalks was not sufficient to increase physical activity among those who are inactive, whereas for those who are already active, living near improved sidewalks was associated with increases in reported leisure-time and walking activity".