In the week that the Olympic Games begin in Tokyo, The Lancet publishes a series of studies and essays on the importance of physical activity and the public health risks of sedentary lifestyles, aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic that has led to the confinement of millions of people.

The studies' authors call for "immediate and urgent action" from policy makers to prioritise research and the implementation of public health measures to improve the physical activity levels of the population.

The magazine argues that the lack of regular physical exercise is related to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer and that the associated costs are around 54 billion dollars a year, more than half paid by the public purse.

In the editorial devoted to the issue, The Lancet recalls that during periods of lockdown exercise was considered essential by several governments, as essential as the need to obtain food, housing and medical care.

"So why are decision-makers not committed to promoting physical activity as a primary need for humans regardless of the context of Covid-19?" the editorial reads.

The authors of the various trials line up some data: 80 percent of adolescent students do not meet the World Health Organisation recommendations of 60 minutes of daily physical activity, 25 percent are sitting for more than three hours a day and 40 percent never walk to school.

They also regret that there is little research on mental health related physical activity among children and young people, knowing the high rates of sedentary lifestyles: 60 percent of boys and 56 percent of girls spend at least two hours in front of a TV set every day. When it comes to video games, the percentage is split between 51 percent (boys) and 33 percent (girls).

The situation of people with disabilities is also highlighted, who are more unprotected in their right to exercise, thus running greater health risks.

For researchers quoted in The Lancet, at least two and a half hours of physical exercise per week represent benefits for cardiovascular, mental and muscular health.