Physical activity in Norway - fact sheet
Physical activity prevents type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders and some forms of cancer. Approximately 1 in 5 adults reaches the Norwegian Directorate of Health’s minimum recommendation of at least 30 minutes physical activity per day on average.
Most of our daily physical activity involves light activities, such as when we sit and work, stand, walk around the office and home, prepare food and go shopping. Here are the definitions of commonly used terms.
Activity, exercise, training
Physical activity and health
Health benefits can be achieved with a dose of moderate physical activity in addition to daily life in light activity. Studies have shown the following:
Cardiovascular disease: Those who are in poor physical shape have twice the risk of dying from cancer and cardiovascular disease compared with those who are moderately active (Ministry of Health and Care Services 2005; Blair 1989).
Physical activity reduces blood pressure and the risk of type 2 diabetes, which in turn reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Type 2 diabetes, adults: Good dietary habits combined with 30 minutes of daily physical activity can halve the risk of developing type 2 diabetes according to studies of high-risk individuals in Norway, Finland and the USA. Moderate physical activity seemed to be preventive by itself, independent of weight loss and dietary changes. Fitness training with high intensity has a greater effect than activity of moderate intensity. Weight training also has a preventive effect (Andersen SA, Knowler WC, Tuomilehto J, Laaksonen DE).
Type 2 diabetes, children and adolescents: Children and adolescents may need 90 minutes of daily moderate physical activity to acquire normal blood sugar regulation and prevent type 2 diabetes. (Ekelund U, Andersen LB).
Cancer: Regular physical activity helps prevent colon cancer, and probably breast cancer and uterine cancer too. The more activity, the stronger the preventive effect. In addition, studies show that increased physical activity prevents cancer of the lungs and pancreas. Moderate physical activity will also indirectly prevent cancers where obesity is a risk factor. (WCRF / AICR 2007: Expert Report).
Between 30 and 60 minutes of moderate and intensive activity per day can reduce the risk of cancer of the colon and probably also breast by 40-50 per cent and 20-40 per cent respectively. (Thune 2000; WHO 2004; IARC 2002).
Skeleton: Weight-bearing physical activity (walking, running, jumping, etc.) in childhood and adolescence can contribute to a stronger skeleton. Among middle-aged and elderly people, regular exercise can reduce the natural loss of bone mass and prevent a fall because balance, coordination and muscle strength also improve. Muscle strength in the legs is particularly important.
Overweight and obesity: physical activity of moderate and high intensity prevents weight gain and obesity, weight regain after dieting, and weight gain associated with quitting smoking. It takes probably 60-90 minutes daily activity of moderate intensity, equivalent to brisk walking, for exercise alone to affect weight (HUNT / Drøyvold, Ehrlichman).
In the population, the most physically active have had the least weight gain since 1985, according to results from the health studies in Nord-Trøndelag.
Other: Physical activity improves pulmonary function, muscle strength, balance and motor skills, helps prevent back problems and strengthens bowel function.
Physical activity and mental health
For people with good mental health, regular exercise enhances well-being, improves the ability to handle stress, provides more energy and encourages better sleep. For people with a mild to moderate depression or chronic fatigue syndrome, physical activity is a well-proven treatment option.
For other disorders, physical activity can also have an effect. In general, people with mental disorders are often inactive and in poorer physical shape than the rest of the population (Martinsen 2000).
With some mental disorders, the risk of obesity is increased, partly because some medications cause increased appetite and weight gain as an unwanted effect. Physical activity can counter these effects.
The Norwegian Directorate of Health has issued these recommendations:
- Adults should be physically active with moderate intensity for a minimum of 30 minutes daily, e.g. quick walking to become warm and have an increased pulse. This is enough to give health benefits for those who previously have had little daily activity. The activity can be split into shorter sessions throughout the day, e.g. 3 x 10 min.
- 60 – 90 minutes per day is recommended to prevent overweight.
- At least 60 minutes varied daily physical activity with both moderate and high intensity is recommended for children and adolescents. The activity can be split into shorter sessions throughout the day.
An international expert panel has made a recommendation for physical activity in the prevention of cancer:
To prevent cancer, at least 30 minutes continuous brisk walking or equivalent per day is recommended. This should be increased to 60 minutes per day as physical fitness improves, alternatively 30 minutes daily with intensive physical activity. Sedentary activities such as watching television should be limited (WCRF / AICR 2007: Expert Report).
Measurement of physical activity
Instead of questionnaires, researchers are increasingly using condition tests, activity meters and other measuring methods to register physical activity and fitness. Results from questionnaires often show higher activity than measurements with activity meters.
Physical activity in adults
|Figure 1: Proportion of 40- and 45-year-old men mostly sedentary in their spare time (defined as inactive). Source: Health studies in the Norwegian counties. Troms, Finnmark: 2001-03 (40 and 45 years). Oslo, Hedmark, Oppland: 2000-2001 (40 and 45 years). Other counties: 1997-1999 (40-42 years).|
A minority of adults meet the recommendations of the Norwegian Directorate of Health.
In the so-called KAN1 study, measurements were made using activity meters for almost 3,500 people in 2008-2009. They were aged 20 to 85 years. The results show that, on average, 22 per cent of adult women and 18 per cent of adult men met the recommendations of 30 minutes of daily activity (Norwegian Directorate of Health 2009).
Among men, the percentage who met the recommendations was similar in all age groups. Women aged 30-50 years were slightly less active than other age groups.
Since most people today have occupations that are mostly sedentary with light activity, leisure time has great significance for the total amount of physical activity and amount of activity with moderate and high intensity.
Figure 1 shows the proportion of adults who are mostly sedentary in their leisure time. These are figures from studies among 40- and 45-year olds in 14 counties during 1997-2003. This would include watching television or other activity that does not involve being physically active.
See the results from the studies in Graff-Iversen et al 2007 in the reference list.
|Figure 2: Proportion of men (blue) and women 40 and 45 years who are mainly inactive in leisure time, by educational level in Oslo 2000-2001. Secondary education - left, further education - middle, tertiary education -right (Grøtvedt L).|
In Oslo, more people in the eastern suburbs (30 per cent) do not exercise and are sedentary in their leisure time than in the western suburbs (20 per cent) Among women in the same age group (40 and 45 years), the corresponding figures were approximately 25 and 15 per cent (Grøtvedt, 2002).
College or university-educated people are more likely to exercise in their leisure time (see figure 2), according to figures from 2000-2001.
Samis have a somewhat higher physical activity than ethnic Norwegians, whilst immigrants from Asia and Africa have lower activity levels.
In these immigrant groups, one in two is defined as "inactive", compared to one in five ethnic Norwegians. (Kumar 2008, Hermansen 2002, Grøtvedt 2002).
Children and adolescents
Activity levels increase during childhood, and begin to fall until adulthood, particularly among girls. Health studies among children and adolescents and a study by the Norwegian Directorate of Health confirm this pattern. Table 2 shows the results of a 2011 study where activity was registered. Approximately 50 per cent of 15-year olds achieved the recommended level. (Norwegian Directorate of Health, ungKan, 2012).
|6-year-olds||87 %||96 %|
|9-year-olds||70 %||86 %|
|15-year-olds||43 %||58 %|
The Norwegian Directorate of Health study showed that:
- On average, the activity of 6-year-olds was 20 per cent higher than the activity of 9-year-olds and 70 per cent higher than that of 15-year-olds.
- Boys were more active than girls. Boys were more active on weekdays than at weekends.
- Most of the day is spent at rest or in activity with low intensity.
- Non-western immigrants have lower activity levels than immigrants with western backgrounds.
- Friends seem to affect the activity level positively, except for 15 year old girls.
- Parental support is particularly important for 6-year-old activity.
- Self-motivation and sense of enjoyment and achievement was important for increased activity.
Trends over time
The proportion of working adults with sedentary occupations has increased significantly in recent decades. From the 1970s to the 1990s, the percentage increased from 20 to 30-40 per cent among men. Among women, the percentage increased from 10 to 30 per cent. Fewer people have manual occupations. (Graff-Iversen et al 2001).
If physical activity is to increase or be maintained, it needs to happen in leisure time. The proportion that is physically active in leisure time has increased somewhat in the last 20 years, but this is not enough to compensate for work and leisure time becoming more sedentary (SEF, 2001).
Findings from the study by the Norwegian Directorate of Health in 2011 show a similar activity level as in the previous study from 2005-2006.
The Nordic countries have common recommendations for diet and physical activity. These recommendations are prepared by an expert committee appointed by the Nordic Council of Ministers. The Norwegian Directorate of Health's recommendations are based on the latest Nordic expert report from 2004. These are under revision (2012).
In 2004, the World Health Organization presented a global strategy for physical activity, diet and health.
- World Health Organization (WHO). Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health 2004, Summary
- Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. Report of the joint WHO / FAO expert Consultation. WHO Technical Report Series, No. 916 (TRS 916)
- US Department of Health & Human Services: New recommendations for physical activity, 2008.
- American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association: Guidelines for healthy adults under age 65 and over age 65.
In 2007, an international expert committee issued a report with recommendations for including physical activity in the prevention of cancer.
- World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute of Cancer Research: Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer, Report 2007.
- Andersen LB et al. Physical activity and clustered cardiovascular risk in children: a cross-sectional study (The European Youth Heart Study). Lancet 2006; 9532: 299-304.
- Blair SN, Kohl HW, Paffenbarger RS, Clark DG, Cooper KH, Gibbons LW. Physical fitness and all-cause mortality: a prospective study of healthy men and women. JAMA 1989; 262: 2395 - 401.
- Ekelund U, Brage S, Froberg K, Harro M, Anderssen SA, et al. (2006) TV Viewing and Physical Activity Are Independently Associated with Metabolic Risk in Children: The European Youth Heart Study. PLoS Med 3(12): e488.
- Erlichman J, Kerbey AL, James WPT. Physical activity and its impact on health outcomes. Paper 2: Prevention of unhealthy weight gain and obesity by physical activity: an analysis of the evidence. Obesity Reviews 2002, 3: 273-87.
- Ekelund U, Anderssen S, Andersen LB et al. Prevalence and correlates of the metabolic syndrome in a population-based sample of European youth. Am J Clin Nutr 2009;89 90-96.
- Graff-Iversen S, Jenum AK, Grøtvedt L, Bakken B, Selmer RM, Søgaard AJ. Risikofaktorer for hjerteinfarkt, hjerneslag og diabetes i Norge. Tidsskr Nor Lægeforen 2007; 127: 2537-41.
- Graff-Iversen S, Skurtveit S, Nybø A, Ross GB. Utviklingen i kroppsarbeid hos norske 40 - 42-åringer i tiden 1974 - 94 Tidsskr Nor Lægeforen 2001; 121: 2584 - 8.
- Grøtvedt L. Helseprofil for Oslo, Voksne (PDF). Folkehelseinstituttet 2002.
- Hermannsen R, Njolstad I, Fonnebo V. Physical activity according to ethnic origin in Finnmark county. Norway. The Finnmark Study. Int J Circumpolar Health. Aug; 61: 189-200, 2002.
- HEVAS-studies 1985-2005 in Norwegian Directorate of Health Key figures for health sector.
- Hofvind SS-H, KCancer registry 2006, literature study
- HUNT/Drøyvold: Drøyvold WB et al. BMI change and leisure time physical activity: an 11 year study in apparently healthy men aged 20-69 y with normal weight at baseline. Int J Obesity 2004;3:410-7 og Leisure time physical activity and change in body mass index: follow-up study of 9357 normal weight healthy women 20-49 years old. Journal of Women's Health 2004;13:55-62.
- HUNT/Kurtze: Kurtze N et al. Selvrapportert fysisk aktivitet i norske befolkningsundersøkelser - et metodeproblem. Norsk Epidemiol 2003;13:163-170.
- Hustvedt BE et al. Description and validation of the ActiReg: a novel instrument to measure physical activity and energy expenditure. Br J Nutr 2004;92:1001-1008.
- IARC Handbook on cancer, Prevention vol 6. Weight Control and Physical Activity, 2002. ISBN 92 832 3006 X.
- Jenum AK, Graff-Iversen S, Selmer R, Søgaard AJ. Risikofaktorer for hjerte- og karsykdom og diabetes gjennom 30 år. Tidsskr Nor lægeforen 2007; 127: 2532-6.
- Jenum AK et al. Promoting physical activity in a low-income multiethnic district: effects of a community intervention study to reduce risk factors for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease: a community intervention reducing inactivity. Diabetes Care 2006; 29 1605-1612.
- Klasson Heggebø L. European Youth Heart Study - The Norwegian Part. Dissertation, ISBN 82-502-0372-0. 2003.
- Knowler WC et al. Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin. NEJM 2002; 346:393-403.
- Kumar B. The Oslo Immigrant Health Profile. Norwegian Institute of Public Health, rapport 2008:7.
- Laaksonen DE et al. Physical activity in the prevention of type 2 diabetes: the Finnish diabetes prevention study. Diabetes. 2005 Jan;54(1):158-65.
- Krange O, Strandbu Å. Ungdom, idrett og friluftsliv. Skiljelinjer i ungdomsbefolkningen og endringer fra 1992 til 2002.
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- Norwegian Directorate of Health, Physical activity and health. Rapport nr. 1/2001. Oslo, 2001.
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- Norwegian Directorate of Health 2005. Handlingsplan for Physical activity 2005-2009
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- Norwegian Directorate of Health: Norwegian recommendations for diet and physical activity.
- Norwegian Institute of Public Health: Youth studies 2000-2004. Results from 6 counties.
- Norwegian Institute of Public Health and Oslo Municipality: Health profile for Oslo - adolescents, adults and the elderly
- Norwegian Institute of Public Health: Health studies, adult
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- Statistics Norway (2002): Physical activity amongst people 55-75 years-old
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- Tuomilehto J et al Prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus by changes in lifestyle among subjects with impaired glucose tolerance. N Engl J Med. 2001 May 3;344(18):1343-50.
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services 2008: New recommendations for physical activity. www.health.gov/paguidelines/ For the elderly, see: Nelson ME et al. Circulation 2007; 116: 1094-1105.
- Vaage OF. Exercise, motion and outdorr activities. Results from Lifestyle Study 2001 and Time Usage Study 2000. Statistics Norway 2004.
- World Health Organisation (WHO). Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health 2004, Summary
- World Health Organisation (WHO). Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. Report of the joint WHO/FAO expert consultation, 2003. WHO Technical Report Series, No. 916 (TRS 916).
- World Health Organisation (WHO). Young peoples' health in context. Health behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) study: International report from the 2001/2002 survey. Copenhagen 2004.
- World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute of Cancer Research (WCRF/AICR), 2007: Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer.