Sprint legend Milkha Singh has been appointed as the World Health Organisation’s goodwill ambassador for physical activity in South-East Asia Region (SEAR), the global health body said on Friday.
As WHO goodwill ambassador, Singh, also known as ‘the Flying Sikh’, will promote WHO SEAR’s non-communicable diseases (NCDs) prevention and control action plan which seeks to reduce the level of insufficient physical activity by 10 per cent and NCDs by 25 per cent by 2025, Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia said.
“Promoting physical activity for health is an important intervention, which is expected to get a significant boost in the region with the support of octogenarian Milkha Singh, a champion for the cause,” she said.
According to her, an estimated 8.5 million people die due to non-communicable diseases every year in WHO South-East Asia Region and many of these deaths are premature and nearly all are lifestyle related.
Regular exercise and physical activity help reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases such as heart diseases, stroke, diabetes and cancer – that are now increasingly afflicting people across the world. An alarming 70 per cent of boys, 80 per cent of girls and nearly 33 per cent adults in the region report insufficient physical activity which is becoming a common feature of modern life, Singh pointed out.
WHO recommends at least 60 minutes of physical activity for children daily and 150 minutes of activity for adults weekly to stave off non-communicable diseases. Physical activity helps those aged 65 years and above to maintain cognitive functioning and reduce the risk of depression, the world health body said.
To facilitate this, WHO has also been advocating with governments to create public spaces for recreational and organised sport. It has been advocating for physical activity as a “best buy” intervention for reducing the risk of deaths due to NCDs.
“Whatever be the age group, gender, physical ability, or socio-economic background, being physically active is an effective way to ensure a healthy and productive life,” the regional director said.
With the support of Milkha Singh, we expect to promote and scale up physical activity in the region to be able to arrest and reverse the NCD epidemic, she said. Milkha Singh is a Padma Shri awardee and had won medals in athletics in Commonwealth and Asian games. He had missed a bronze medal by a whisker in the 1960 Rome Olympics.