Primary Care>Exercise & Fitness

WHO Scraps Low Bar for Exercise, Sets Targets for All Ages

— New recommendations for people with disability, pregnant women

by Nicole Lou, Staff Writer, MedPage Today November 25, 2020

WHO Scraps Low Bar for Exercise, Sets Targets for All Ages | MedPage Today

A multi-ethnic group of three people working out at the gym, on elliptical cross trainers, wearing protective face masks

Everyone from children to older adults can benefit from some exercise and a limit on sedentary behavior, according to updated guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Adults should have 150-300 minutes of moderate exercise, 750-150 minutes of vigorous exercise, or some combination of the two per week, whenever possible.

These recommended ranges marked a departure from the minimum weekly thresholds specified in the 2010 recommendations, according to authors led by Fiona Bull, PhD, MSc, of the WHO. The new guideline was published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Older adults, including those with chronic conditions and living with disability, were not exempt from weekly exercise according to their abilities. Additionally, to enhance functional ability and prevent falls, they were recommended to perform physical activities that emphasize functional balance and strength training (at moderate or greater intensity) 3 or more days a week.

The new WHO guidelines also introduced a new recommendation that pregnant and postpartum women get regular exercise, ideally at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week.

Children and adolescents should aim for an average of 60 minutes per day of moderate-to-vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity throughout each week. This was a change from the minimum 60 minutes daily exercise recommended in 2010, Bull and colleagues noted.

Ultimately, some physical activity is better than none, the WHO group determined, agreeing with the 2018 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines. People of all age groups should undertake regular muscle-strengthening exercise and reduce sedentary behaviors.

Although no upper limit of sedentary behavior was specified by Bull and colleagues, a separate group found in a meta-analysis of nine studies from four countries that roughly 30 to 40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity per day could offset the association between sedentary time and mortality. This meta-analysis was published in the same issue of British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Moreover, a population exercising more would see health benefits translated into economic benefits, particularly due to fewer people working while sick, according to a retrospective study also published alongside the WHO statement.

Last Updated November 25, 2020

author['full_name']Nicole Lou is a reporter for MedPage Today, where she covers cardiology news and other developments in medicine. Follow 


The Public Health Agency of Canada and the Government of Norway provided financial support for the WHO guidelines.

Bull’s group had no disclosures.

Primary Source

British Journal of Sports Medicine

Source Reference: Bull FC, et al « World Health Organization 2020 guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour » Br J Sports Med 2020; DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2020-102955.

Secondary Source

British Journal of Sports Medicine

Source Reference: Ekelund U, et al « Joint associations of accelero-meter measured physical activity and sedentary time with all-cause mortality: a harmonised meta-analysis in more than 44000 middle-aged and older individuals » Br J Sports Med 2020; DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2020-103270.

Additional Source

British Journal of Sports Medicine

Source Reference: Hafner M, et al « Estimating the global economic benefits of physically active populations over 30 years (2020-2050) » Br J Sports Med 2020; DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2020-102590.