In many countries, including Malaysia, the rate of physical inactivity is on the rise. A World Health Organisation (WHO) study published in the British scientific journal Lancet in July found that 61.4 per cent of Malay¬sians above the age of 15 are physically inactive. The numbers have put Malaysia in the list of the top ten most physically inactive countries in the region.

Increasing physical inactivity is becoming a serious health concern, according to WHO. The organisation states that physical inactivity is currently the fourth leading cause of death globally and is a contributing factor in the development of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, cancer and heart diseases.

The Third National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) revealed that 70 per cent of Malaysian adults suffer fromnon-communicable diseases. They also account for 71 per cent of deaths in the country.

The importance of elevating physical activity in tackling the prevalence of NCDs was recently highlighted in the study entitled ‘The Pandemic of Physical Activity: Global Action for Public Health’ which said that physical inactivity has far-reaching health, economic, environmental and social consequences. WHO called for countries and Governments to play a more active role in introducing key strategies for increasing physical activity and promoting active living.

Physical inactivity is becoming increasingly common among Malaysia’s older population. The Malaysian Third NHMS found that more than half of Malaysians aged above 65 years old are inactive and the percentage climbs to 80.3% for those above 80.

Dr Selina Khoo from the Sports Centre of the University of Malaya and Professor Tony Morris of the School of Sport and Exercise Science and Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living (ISEAL), Victoria University said that typical reasons people have for their lack of physical activity include the lack of time and money.

“For older adults, concerns about over-exertion, injury and social perception might also stop them from being physically active. However, the reality is that older adults can safely participate in regular physical activity, including aerobic exercise and strength training.

The important thing is for older adults to be as physically active as they can. Simple activities can prevent chronic diseases, increase mobility and make life more enjoyable,” Dr Khoo and Professor Morris said.