Physical exercise

Regular physical exercise has a beneficial effect on your health. For example, physical exercise not only reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, (colorectal) cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis, it also has a positive influence on mental health. Adults should preferably exercise for at least 30 minutes per day, whereas children and adolescents (6-18 years) best double that amount. 

What is physical exercise?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines physical activity as “any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure”. This also includes activities undertaken at work, when performing household activities, during journeys and in your free time.

Do Belgians get sufficient physical exercise?

According to the Belgian national Health Interview Survey (HIS) 2013, only 36% of Belgians (aged 15 and older) spend at least 30 minutes per day doing (at least moderate) physical exercise. Men do better than women (48% versus 24%). 

According to the Food Consumption Survey (2014), the amount of physical exercise clearly decreases in the course of childhood to adolescence. According to the HIS, adults also engage in less physical exercise as they get older. If 51% of 15-24 year-olds still do the recommended 30 minutes, this is only 12% among the 75+ year-old age group. However, sufficient exercise is important at any age. 

The socio-economic situation also plays a role: only 20% of the lower educated exercise for at least 30 minutes per day, compared to 38% of the higher educated. 

Trend analyses indicate that the situation in Belgium regarding physical exercise has not improved since the first Health Interview Survey (1997), and we have definitely seen a clear deterioration over the last 5 years. 

Why aren’t we getting enough exercise in Belgium?

New technologies and mechanization have influenced people’s jobs and their daily activities. Rapid urbanization, the increase in motorized transport and the fact that people spend more of their free time doing activities that involve sitting down (screen activities like watching TV and using the computer) are bringing about global changes in relation to physical exercise.

Why does physical exercise need to be promoted?

There is clear scientific evidence that exercise has a positive influence on our health. Adequate physical exercise provides protection against general mortality not only in healthy people but also among people with cardiovascular complaints, diabetes, excess weight and obesity. Promoting physical exercise should therefore be considered a priority as it has not only physical benefits but also a positive psychological impact. 
The promotion of physical exercise among children and adolescents can be achieved by (continuing) to encourage sport, both during and outside school hours. It can also be done in other areas by, for example, encouraging students to go to school or hobbies by bicycle or on foot , or by encouraging children to play outside more and longer. It is also important in this regard to consider environmental factors such as the availability of safe open spaces (playgrounds, cycle paths and footpaths). 

It is also necessary to continue promoting physical exercise for adults, e.g. during travel, leisure time or in the household. Tip: walking is an easy, accessible and inexpensive way of getting physical exercise. It has a large number of health benefits with few adverse effects.

Sciensano charts the level of physical exercise among the Belgian population and monitors its evolution . We collect the data on this subject via the national Health Interview Survey and the Food Consumption Survey.

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