Global Wellness Institute releases physical activity toolkit with cutting-edge new strategies

The nonprofit organisation has unveiled a groundbreaking initiative to combat the global challenge of physical inactivity

The Global Wellness Institute (GWI) has released the Wellness Policy Toolkit: Physical Activity, a comprehensive resource designed to address the rising levels of sedentary behaviour worldwide. The toolkit offers tangible strategies, policy actions, and public-private partnerships that can effectively tackle the issue.

The toolkit highlights six key areas of policy action which encompass various aspects of society, from the built environment to healthcare integration, and aims to encourage physical activity on a global scale. By implementing these recommendations, it is hoped that governments, nonprofits, and businesses can contribute to a significant reduction in physical inactivity rates and promote a healthier world.

The toolkit begins by shedding light on the alarming prevalence of physical inactivity, with an estimated 27.5% of the world’s adult population now classified as physically inactive. This sedentary behaviour has become the fourth leading cause of death worldwide, with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating the problem. Without urgent action, physical inactivity is projected to result in 500 million new cases of preventable diseases and USD $300 billion in treatment costs between 2020 and 2030, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Katherine Johnston, GWI senior research fellow, emphasises the importance of widespread efforts to address the inactivity crisis. The toolkit’s strength lies in its accessibility and relevance to individuals from all sectors. It offers a broad range of policy actions that can be pursued by government officials, nonprofits, community organisations, and businesses. By fostering collaboration across these sectors, a movement can be ignited to encourage both large and small-scale initiatives that motivate people to engage in physical activity.

For each of the toolkit’s six key area, GWI researchers present the challenges that need to be addressed and outline specific policy actions that have proven successful in various regions. These actions are supplemented by real-world examples of effective policy measures already in place.

woman who practices her physical activity
Credit: Mart production / Pexels

The first area of action focuses on encouraging physical activity through the built environment. The toolkit emphasises the need to design cities, neighbourhoods, and buildings that promote movement as a default lifestyle choice. Examples include implementing complete streets, multi-use trails, car-free zones, and active design principles in urban planning.

The second area aims to make recreational physical activity more accessible, convenient, and affordable. Investing in infrastructure, facilities, and programs, treating recreational physical activity as an essential public service, and creating free and accessible outdoor spaces are among the recommended actions. Successful models, such as the public-private partnership seen in the UK, Ireland, and Australia, where governments subsidize fitness centers operated by private contractors, are highlighted.

The third area focuses on improving access to physical activity for underserved populations. Targeted investments in physical activity infrastructure, reducing cost barriers, and addressing racial and ethnic disparities are crucial steps in ensuring that marginalised communities have equal opportunities to engage in physical activity. The toolkit showcases programs like Race Equality First in Wales, which organises free events and activities to promote physical activity among Black and minority ethnic communities.

Integrating physical activity into the healthcare system is the fourth area of policy action. The toolkit underscores the need for collaboration between the physical activity sector and healthcare professionals to promote exercise as a routine part of patient care. Initiatives such as exercise prescription and medical fitness centres are essential to cater to individuals who may feel uncomfortable in traditional fitness environments.

bikes in town for physical activity
Credit : Jeff Maclain / Unsplash

The fifth area focuses on encouraging youth to build lifelong habits of physical activity. Increasing opportunities for physical activities in schools, ensuring regular physical education classes, and fostering play-based youth sports are key actions recommended in the toolkit. Successful examples like the “walking school bus” concept, which has spread to multiple countries, are showcased as effective strategies to encourage physical activity among young people.

The sixth and final area addresses the need to encourage adults to engage in physical activity during the workday. With the majority of jobs in higher-income countries said to involve sedentary behaviour, it is crucial to create environments that reduce sitting and encourage movement. Realignment of company benefits and culture, offering opportunities for exercise during work hours, and implementing active workplace initiatives, such as treadmill and stationary bike desks, are some of the suggested actions.

The release of the Wellness Policy Toolkit: Physical Activity marks a significant step forward in combating physical inactivity globally. By providing practical solutions, policy actions, and real-world examples, the toolkit empowers governments, organisations, and businesses to take action and make a positive impact. Recognising the role of public policy as a crucial component in addressing the inactivity crisis, the GWI’s Wellness Policy Series will continue to release additional reports focusing on other domains of wellness. With the goal of bringing wellness to all and addressing health crises, the series reinforces the importance of public policy in creating a healthier and more active world for everyone.

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