Africa faces an increasing burden of non-communicable diseases. The lack of physical activity is a risk factor for most of them.
Research on physical inactivity trends in Africa is restrict. But evidence suggests that physical activity levels may decline as countries undergo transitions such as increased urbanization.
But in Africa, health agenda is dominated by urgent issues such as infectious diseases and food insecurity. Given these competitive priorities and the absence of physical activity policy, African countries need to know in what strategies to invest.
Encouraging physical activity should be a priority. Being physically active is not entirely an individual choice, but a consequence of the funds, spaces, places and opportunities that the individual has available communities. This is why governments and leaders need to play a role.
To help governments promote physical activity, we have the International Association for Physical Activity and Health, offer eight key areas for investment. It is based on global testimony of what works. Our goal is to help governments achieve the targets set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Decades of research emphasizes that no single solution will increase the population levels of physical activity declined and stagnated over the past 50 years. Therefore, our reinvestment proposals cover a range of institutions and government departments. Several departments, including transport, education, sports and health, need to work together.
1: School programs: Physically active children are likely to be physically active if adults. Physical activity also contributes positively to academic achievement and classroom behavior. School surroundings and programs that keep students active before, during and after school recommended. One of the best known and most successful multi-component programs is Finland’s “Schools on the moveFlexibility around the implementation of these programs is needed as schools are navigating a post-COVID-19 reality.
2: Active travel: funded transport policies that support walking, cycling and public transport encourage more active ways travel. This policy must also address safety. Most travel in the city is short enough to walk, bike or roll. Replacing car travel with active transportation travel improves health, reduces injuries and traumas on the road, and reduces harmful emissions, along with others advantages. This has been done in many European countries cities. For those who live far from work, public transport can encourage more active modes of travel, such as walking to and from a bus or train station.
3: Active urban design: People are active in places that feel safe and attractive use. Spaces can be designed to support physical activity, such as buildings where the stairs are visually appealing. Access to parks is another clear example, but there are nuances such as the type and quality of facilities offered at the parks. Active urban design allows for many of the things people need to be close to their home or work, within walking distance. Funded policies that support equitable access to parks, local amenities and better walking, cycling and public transport infrastructure make it more attractive, accessible and equitable to be active.
These planning considerations are particularly relevant in African countries that are rapidly becoming urbanized. There is evidence to show that these efforts are worth pursuing. Characteristics of the built environment, for example, contribute to increased physical activity among adults. Uganda, and among Nigerians adults and adolescent.
4: Healthcare: Healthcare professionals are able to advise patients on how and why they should be physically active. But some health professionals need additional training and support to promote physical activity. There are indications of success in some high-income countries such as Australia. But there is room for improvement in Africa countries, and strategies can take advantage of the global “Exercise is medicine“initiative.
5: Public education and the media: Social media, digital media and mass media campaigns can convey clear messages about physical activity. These platforms can reach large populations cost-effectively and make them aware of the importance of physical activity and opportunities to be more active, and leads to behavior change.
6: Sport and Recreation for All: Providing a variety of sporting opportunities during their lifetime is the key to keeping people engaged in sport. Given the high cost of some sports, government subsidies may be one way to increase participation. Sport is specifically linked to achieving the Sustainable Goals, with a “Tool set for action“for countries to attract. Sport and recreation for all has been achieved in high-income countries such as Canada. Progress has also been made in some African countries, such as Zambia, where national sports policy more explicitly recognizes the contribution of sport to achieving sustainable development priorities, including skills development and job creation.
7: Workplaces: For sedentary occupations, work-based physical activity programs have physical, mental, and social benefits that reduce absenteeism and burnout and increase productivity. An example is to provide pedometers to employees so that they can monitor (and increase) their daily steps.
8: Community-wide programs: Community-wide programs to promote physical activity have health benefits. It showed that they were successful in Brazil, in particular in terms of scaling up interventions with political support, and Japan where physical activity has been increased at the population level. But it still needs to be implemented effectively in any African country.
Now is the time to invest in these eight areas, to help COVID-19 recovery, reduce the impact of non-communicable diseases and promote mental health. These investments are critical to reach the WTO targets to reduce physical inactivity by 10% by 2025 and 15% by 2030.
Catherine Draper, Associate Professor, University of the Witwatersrand; Charlie Foster, Reader in Physical Activity and Public Health, Chair of the UK CMO’s Expert Group for Physical Activity, University of Bristol; Dr Lindsey ReeceSenior research fellow in physical activity, University of Sydney; Jacqueline MairSenior Senior Scientist, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich; Jasper Schipperijn, Professor in active living environment, University of Southern Denmark; Karen Milton, Associate Professor of Public Health, University of East Anglia; Matthew Mclaughlin, PhD candidate, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle; Simone Tomaz, Doctoral Research Fellow, University of Stirling; Sjaan GomersallSenior Lecturer, The University of Queensland, en Trevor Shilton, Deputy Professor, School of Public Health, Curtin University