Exercise Around the World: Which Countries Are the Most and Least Physically Active?

Exercise Around the World: Which Countries Are the Most and Least Physically Active?

(Last Updated On: April 18, 2019)

Exercise Around the World: Which Countries Are the Most and Least Physically Active?There’s an epidemic of inactivity affecting the health of people around the world. According to the medical journal Lancet, low levels of physical activity are the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. Westernized countries that have easy access to cars and technology that allows them to move around less have been criticized for not getting enough exercise – but how does the rest of the world fare? Which countries move around and exercise the most and the least?

Physical Activity around the World

Lancet did a study comparing levels of physical activity in different parts of the world. The results may surprise you. People from around the world were questioned about their activity level at work, home and during their free time. Factors such as what type of transportation they used were taken into account. Worldwide just over 30% of people were classified as physically inactive according to this study, but the number of people who met the criteria for being inactive varied quite a bit from country to country.

Despite the belief that people in westernized countries like the United States are the “laziest,” it doesn’t hold true across the board. The most sedentary country in the world is Malta, a group of islands in the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and North Africa. Here almost 72% of adults are physically inactive. Other countries in the top five were Swaziland, Saudi Arabia, Argentina and Serbia where the number of inactive people ranged from 68 to 69%.

In general, countries in the Middle East ranked high on the inactivity scale, and residents of the U.K. didn’t fare much better with almost 64% being classified as inactive, making it one of the least active countries in Europe. France and Greece were some of the most active countries in Europe with only 33% and 16% respectably of their citizens inactive. France and Greece also eat relatively healthy diets. The combination of activity and a Mediterranean diet may explain their relatively good longevity.

Where were activity levels the highest? African countries and Southeast Asia fared the best. Only around 17% of residents of Southeast Asian countries were inactive. The big surprise? Japan, a country believed to be one of the healthiest, had an inactivity rate of 60% – significantly greater than the United States and most European countries. Countries with a high rate of physical activity were Mongolia and Benin where only 9% of the citizens don’t get enough exercise. The most active country in the world? That distinction goes to Mozambique where only 7% of residents are inactive.

Other Results of This Study

This study also showed that worldwide men are more active than women, and countries with a higher income level, in general, are less likely to be active than poorer countries.

Why Lack of Physical Activity is So Important

Smoking is often deemed the most important lifestyle risk factor for early mortality, but lack of physical activity is no less important. Research suggests that smoking causes about 5 million deaths yearly around the world, while the lack of physical activity is blamed for 5.3 million yearly deaths worldwide. Smoking and lack of exercise are the greatest risk factors contributing to an early death. That should certainly be enough to inspire you to lace up your exercise shoes and get moving. Every step counts when it comes to lowering your risk for health problems.



The Lancet, Volume 380, Issue 9838, Pages 294 – 305, 21 July 2012.


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4 thoughts on “Exercise Around the World: Which Countries Are the Most and Least Physically Active?

  1. I’ve read this twice and can’t see what percentage of people in the US are inactive, only that it’s significantly less that 60%…

  2. If France and Greece are one of the most active contries why are their percentages of active people listed as 33% and 16%? That would mean they have 67% and 84% of inactive people. Is this supposed to be reversed?

  3. Least physically active countries they say…So what!

    What a load of rubbish, and an example of low, very low level of nowadays journalism!
    I don’t see the point or relativity of this study. I mean, “so what”, what is this supposed to confirm or show, apart from creating cheap gossip?

    For example, life expectancy, just to name one. There are many more examples that show how high standard living has nothing to do with physical activity, like economy for one:

    Most physically active countries;……………………Life expectancy!
    Mozambique, only 7% physically inactive………Men 52 / Women 53
    Mongolia, only 9% physically inactive…………….65 / 73
    Benin, only 9% physically inactive………………….58 / 60

    High to medium physical active countries;………Life expectancy!
    France, 16% physically inactive…………………….79 / 85
    Greece, 33% physically inactive…………………….78 / 84
    USA, 41% physically inactive…………………………77 / 82

    Low physical active countries;……………………….Life expectancy!
    United Kingdom 63% physically inactive…………79 / 82
    Swaziland 69% physically inactive…………………49 / 51
    Malta 72% physically inactive………………………..79 / 82

    Absolutely no cohesion between sport activity and a long healthy life! So again, what do studies like this serve for, or want to prove?


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