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Dhaka Tribune

A major scope for improving urban health status of Bangladesh

Physical inactivity can lead to a number of life-threatening consequences for the general public

Update : 03 Aug 2023, 10:18 AM

Physical activity has been suggested to play an essential role in promoting psychological and physical advantages for people of all ages and genders. It assists in helping to prevent a wide range of health challenges, including diseases, and mental health conditions. Also, physical activities or exercises encourage healthy physical development, psychological growth, enhanced immune system function, etc. 

Regular physical exercise provides advantages, including strengthening cardiovascular health, building muscle strength and endurance, as well as regulating weight, stress reduction, and lower risks of chronic diseases. Additionally, studies have shown that regular physical activities significantly impact on the capacity of individuals to think clearly, learn new things, enhance their talents, and developed cognitive functions.

Despite widespread agreement that physical activity is a habit that benefits health, adults all over the world do not adhere to the current public health recommendations for exercise.

According to the global data sets, the global recommendations for physical exercise are not met by 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men worldwide. If more people around the world were active or engaged in any form of physical activity, up to 5 million fatalities may be avoided annually.

Data statistics on worldwide population groups have found that physically inactive individuals have a 20–30% higher chance of passing away than physically active individuals. Over 80% of teenagers around the world don't engage in sufficient amounts of physical activity which leads to early obesity.

Physical activity is identified as the major determinant of premature mortality, multi-morbidity, and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Physical inactivity is proven to be one of the most dangerous factors contributing to non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular and heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, and several types of cancers; along with health conditions like obesity, mental health problems, etc.

However, in the last few decades, a large volume of research has clearly shown that physical inactivity impacts additional aspects of human life beyond diseases associated with lifestyle, food habits, socioeconomic factors, living standards, etc. 

Urban health and well-being are greatly enhanced by physical activity. As the urbanization process spreads as well as the urban population increases, a variety of health issues are encountered as a result of urban sedentary lifestyles, excessive pollution, over-burdening food -- nutrition safety and security, physical inactivity, as well as elevated stress.

Globally, metropolitan regions have substantially greater rates of physical inactivity than rural areas, and this problem is particularly critical in countries with low or middle incomes. Urbanization, in particular, has a vast amount of impact on how much and what kind of physical exercise a urban-dweller engages in.

Over 3 million people each year die from physical inactivity, with 2.6 million of those fatalities taking place in low and middle-income nations. Economic activities, socioeconomic and cultural conditions, occupational activities, along with environmental settings all undergo significant changes as a result of urbanization.

These structural alterations result in modifications in each individual's lifestyle living in urban areas regarding their socioeconomic status, which both directly and indirectly affects levels of physical exercise as well as the behavioral aspects of urban population groups in general. 

According to recent studies, urban Bangladesh lacks on a huge scale for promoting physical activities, as well as the prevalence of physical exercises, willingness of participating in physical exercises, and activities among young people and women is comparatively lower. 

From a recent nationwide study (conducted from September 2017 to June 2018), 29.1% of all persons in Bangladesh (36.7% in urban areas vs. 26.9% in rural regions) were physically inactive when considering 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week.

The prevalence of physical inactivity is vividly higher among young adolescents, which is a major concern for the higher risk of obesity, NCDs, and mental health issues, besides psychological and cognitive development. Likewise, there is extreme risk of low growth of human development in Bangladesh in a broader view. According to the results of a study conducted in Dhaka city, more females (94%) than males (73%) did not fulfill the WHO recommendations of at least 150 minutes of MVPA per week.

With the social, cultural, and behavioral norms and practices of Bangladesh, it has been proposed in many studies that gender variations in activity choices, with men favouring more physically taxing pursuits and women favouring more passive social activities, may also be reflected in gender differences in physical activity participation.

With the established association of NCDs and physical inactivity, the urban population of Bangladesh is in a critical position with the increasing health burden of NCDs and coexisting risk of communicable diseases. Studies show the data of high prevalence of NCDs-related morbidity and fatalities among the urban population segments is highly dependent on the data set of physical inactivity and lack of physical exercise practices among the young-adult, men-women, children, etc groups of urban dwellers of Bangladesh. 

So it is inevitable for urban Bangladesh to explore the scope for promoting the importance of physical activities such as walking, jogging, cycling, physical exercises, running, swimming, dancing, and aerobic classes along with other forms of physical movement to improve the health status of the urban population. By ignoring the adverse impacts of physical inactivity, it is only logical to say the development process of Bangladesh overall will be hampered.

Awareness among the urban population and authorities as well as the promotion of physical activities and various forms of recreational exercises is a must to be noted for the urban infrastructural and policy-making bodies.

In conclusion, physical activity and urban health work in close proximity. Despite the difficulties presented by urban environments, adopting an active lifestyle and utilizing the resources offered can considerably improve the health and well-being of urban residents in Bangladesh.

Urban regions of Bangladesh ought to place significant emphasis on the construction of accessible recreational purposes places, pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, and secure cycling routes in order to fully capitalize on the value of physical activity in urban health. Public health campaigns and initiatives can also increase knowledge of the advantages of physical activity and motivate the urban people of Bangladesh to include it in their daily routines. 

Sarna Samanta Mallick is Research Assistant, Eminence Associates for Social Development. Dr Md Shamim Hayder Talukdar is CEO, 

Eminence Associates for Social Development and Consultant, UNICEF. 

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