Copenhagen, Feb 18 (IANS): Increasing physical activity could save lives and billions of euros of health care costs annually in the European Union (EU), according to a report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) here.
Increasing physical activity to the minimum level recommended by the WHO could prevent 11.5 million new cases of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by 2050, avoid thousands of unnecessary deaths, and save the EU billions of euros annually in health care costs, Xinhua news agency reported, citing the report.
"Our modelling study clearly shows that increasing physical activity levels is not only great for health -- it will create a positive effect for the economy of any country, returning 1.7 euro ($1.8) in economic benefits for every euro invested," said Michele Cecchini who leads the OECD program of work on public health.
Following the WHO recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, EU citizens would prevent over 10,000 premature deaths in the region each year, according to the report "Step up! Tackling the Burden of Insufficient Physical Activity in Europe".
In addition, the report presents estimated potential economic benefits of increased physical activity in purchasing power parities (PPPs) -- the rates of currency conversion that equalise the purchasing power of different currencies by eliminating the differences in price levels between countries.
The EU nations, according to the report, are expected to save an average of 0.6 per cent of their health care budgets if they address the issue of physical inactivity among the entire population. This amounts to almost 8 billion euros PPPs annually.
"The report provides evidence that investing in policies that promote physical activity not only improves individual well-being and population health, but also pays economic dividends," said Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe.
However, other significant findings from the study show that every third person in the EU does not engage in an adequate amount of physical activity, with 45 per cent of respondents saying they "never exercise or play sport." The highest burden of insufficient physical activity on regional health care spending is found in Germany, Italy, and France.
This is causing millions of cases of the four most lethal NCDs: cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes, "ruining people's health and often their financial well-being and burdening economies," the report has said.