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Increasing Physical Activity Could Prevent 10,000 Premature Deaths & Save Billions in Healthcare Spending Across EU

A joint report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has revealed that increasing physical activity to the minimum levels recommended by the WHO would prevent 10,000 premature deaths per year and save billions in healthcare spending across the EU.[0]

The report, titled ‘Step up! Tackling the Burden of Insufficient Physical Activity in Europe’, highlights the fact that nearly half of EU citizens (45%) never exercise or play sport and that every third person in the EU does not engage in an adequate amount of physical activity.[1] Germany, Italy, and France are the countries where the impact of inadequate physical activity on regional healthcare expenditure is the greatest.[2]

The report also presents estimated potential economic benefits of increased physical activity in purchasing power parities (PPPs).[2] According to the data, a €1 investment in physical activity generates an almost two-fold return of €1.7 in economic benefits.[3]

Data from the latest Eurobarometer survey reveals that only four out of 10 adults (38%) in the EU exercised or did sport at least once a week in 2022, and only 6% exercised five times a week. Exercising was most prevalent amongst people in Finland (71%), Luxembourg (63%), the Netherlands (60%), and Denmark and Sweden (both 59%), whilst Portugal, Greece and Poland had the lowest levels of exercise.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on physical activity levels in the EU, with more than half of the respondents of the latest Eurobarometer survey claiming that they had reduced their level of physical activity – with 34% being active less frequently and 18% stopping completely.[4]

According to the report, doubling the time for moderate-intensity physical activity to 300 minutes per week would result in a two to three-fold impact on the population level.[3] That would equate to 30,000 premature deaths per year, and 27 million new cases of NCDs prevented over 30 years, as well as reducing healthcare expenditure by €17 billion per year.[3]

The WHO/OECD report proposes policy measures that can increase levels of physical activity and make people more aware of its health benefits.[5] It also cites data from the latest Eurobarometer, which states that the main barrier to being active is a lack of time, followed by a lack of motivation or simply no interest in the sport.[3]

0. “Physical activity: WHO and OECD outline policy options for achieving recommended exercise levels” The BMJ, 17 Feb. 2023,

1. “Exercise in Europe: Which countries are the most and least active?” Euronews, 17 Feb. 2023,

2. “Increasing physical activity could save lives, billions of euros: Report” Lokmat, 17 Feb. 2023,

3. “Increased physical activity could save €8 billion annually in EU” EURACTIV, 17 Feb. 2023,

4. “Lack of exercise blamed for thousands of premature deaths in Europe each year” Euro Weekly News, 18 Feb. 2023,

5. “Europeans Don’t Exercise Enough – And Policy-Makers Should Do More To Encourage Them” Health Policy Watch, 17 Feb. 2023,

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