Introduction health

On this page you will find a short introduction to the linkages between sport and healt an the relationship between physical inactivity and the rise in non communicable diseases.

Active participation

Sport and physical activity are essential for improving health and well being. Appropriate forms of sport and physical activity can play a significant role to prevent as well as help cure many of the world's leading noncommunicable diseases. Evidence shows that regular participation in physical activity programmes provides all people with a wide range of physical, social and mental health benefits. Such active participation also interacts positively with strategies to improve diet, discourage the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs and enhance functional capacity. Consequently, physical activity is an effective method of disease prevention for the individual and, for nations, a cost-effective way to improve public health.

The global rise in noncommunicable diseases

The health burden from preventable noncommunicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases, is increasing significantly throughout the world. WHO estimates that mortality, morbidity and disability resulting from these leading diseases currently account for approximately 60% of all deaths and 43% of the global disease burden.

The rise in physical inactivity

Unhealthy diets, tobacco use and physical inactivity are the dominant factors causing these chronic diseases and are now leading public health issues in most countries. Of these, physical inactivity is estimated to directly cause 1.9 million deaths globally, while also indirectly contributing to diseases and deaths resulting from factors including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity (see figure next colomn).

Globally, over 60% of adults do not participate in a sufficient amount of sport and physical activity, largely due to changes in lifestyle such as inactivity at work, sedentary forms of recreation, like television and computers, and excessive use of 'passive' modes of transport. Such a sedentary lifestyle also contributes to obesity.

Those most likely to be physically inactive are women, older people, the disabled and people from lower socio-economic groups. In addition, while physical activity is critical for the holistic development of young people, one-third of adolescents are insufficiently active, with girls offered less opportunities to be active than boys. This is especially problematic given that patterns of physical activity set when young usually form the basis for lifelong activity.

Pieter van der Houwen

Pieter van der Houwen


Main sources

Report and brochure Sport as a Tool for Development and Peace: Towards Achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, Report from the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Sport for Development and Peace: