Use physical activity and exercise to prevent, manage NCDs, like cancer

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), like cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes, are a serious public health crisis the world over.

Their increasing prevalence is partly blamed on ageing, rapid urbanisation, globalisation and industrialisation, all of which result in changes in dietary patterns, increased alcohol intake, tobacco use and little physical activity.

The NCD burden is likely to rise sharply in the coming years unless immediate and appropriate action is taken to address the risk factors.

And should the trend of the increased burden of NCDs and infectious diseases such as malaria, HIV and tuberculosis (TB) persist, Kenya’s health systems will be strained.

Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for NCDs. Though vital for good health and well-being, physical activities such as walking, jogging and running are normally overlooked.

Those leading a sedentary lifestyle need to make regular physical activity part of their daily routine.

With physical inactivity the fourth leading risk factor for death, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends doses of physical activity for various age groups.

For children and youth aged five to17 years, physical activity includes play, sports, walking, running and planned exercise (PE) in the context of family, school and community activities.

They should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity per day, preferably daily.

For the 18-64-year age group, exercise includes walking, jogging, cycling, occupational activities, household chores, sports and PE of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity throughout the week.

For those aged 65 and above, it includes walking, cycling, jogging, household chores, sports or planned exercise. They should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week.

All need to make physical activity part and parcel of daily routine at home, school, work or in the community.

Children and youth should be encouraged and supported in making physical activity choices that are convenient, sustainable, and compatible with their needs, abilities and interests.

Healthy active living needs to be as high a priority as going for treatment; prevention is better than cure.

There is also a need to enhance the built environment to support the integration of physical activity into daily life. Let us get everyone to move more, eat enough and sit less.

Physical activity and exercise have a major role in achieving the ‘Big Four’, especially UHC, and the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC), particularly the arts and sports pathway.

Prof Vincent Onywera, Department of Physical Education, Exercise and Sports Science, Kenyatta University. [email protected]

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