According to the agency's statistics, four out of five adolescents and one in four adults worldwide do not participate in sufficient physical activity. This is estimated to cost $54 billion in healthcare globally and $14 billion in productivity.
The organization said that "every move counts" and that everyone, regardless of their age and ability, should stay active. The guidelines recommend at least 150 to 300 minutes of aerobic activity weekly for adults and 60 minutes of activity per day for adolescents and children.
Those aged 65 years and older should add activities that strengthen muscles, improve coordination and balance, the WHO said.
Research has shown that regular physical activity improves both mental and physical fitness, reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression and cognitive decline, while also preventing heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
"Being physically active is critical for health and well-being -- it can help to add years to life and life to years," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
"Every move counts, especially now as we manage the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic. We must all move every day -- safely and creatively.""Physical activity of any type, and any duration can improve health and well being, but more is always better," stated Dr. Ruediger Krech, adding that especially those who work sedentary jobs need to engage in aerobic activity.
Even play and everyday household tasks like cleaning can be beneficial, the agency noted, stressing that the recommendations especially apply to people with chronic conditions.
Dr. Fiona Bull, head of the WHO's Physical Activity Unit, said that the latest guidelines "highlight how important being active is for our hearts, bodies and minds, and how the favorable outcomes benefit everyone, of all ages and abilities."
According to a study published earlier this month in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the measures imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19 have led to a decrease in physical activity worldwide. In Italy, which had strict lockdowns, there was a 48.7 decrease. Globally, within 10 days of the pandemic declaration, there was a 27.3 percent decrease, per data taken from popular fitness apps.
In an August study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 25 percent of participants reported depression and 13 percent said they were drinking or taking mind-altering substances to cope with the COVID-19 crisis. An alarming percentage of participants between the ages of 18 and 44 reported that they were struggling with these issues.