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Yoga can help stave off NCDs: Poonam Khetrapal, WHO

Jun 21, 2017

The International Day of Yoga demonstrates, the art of being active is one each of us can master, writes Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia.

Poonam Khetarpal

New Delhi: Yoga can be practiced at all ages. The only requirement is a commitment to better health and a willingness to gently stretch, exercise and invigorate one’s body and mind. It can help kids get the 60 minutes of daily activity needed to set up a lifetime of good health. It can help adults reach the 150 minutes of weekly activity needed to stave off non communicable diseases. For persons aged 65 and above it can help reduce the risk of depression and maintain cognitive functioning.

The International Day of Yoga, draws a critical link between healthy lifestyles, physical activity and individual and public health. Non Communicable Diseases cause an estimated 8.5 million deaths in the Region every year. Many are premature; nearly all are lifestyle related. An alarming 70% of boys and 80% of girls in the Region report insufficient physical activity.

Though each of us should develop our own health-positive habits community initiatives that promote physical activity in all forms are key to creating the society-wide change needed. Schools, for example, can provide a physical and social environment that promotes physical activity. Physical activity – including yoga – can be built into classroom lessons, while extracurricular pursuits can be encouraged and facilitated. Workplaces can integrate physical activity into their operations. Lunchtime sporting competitions or yoga classes can be organized. Government must also play a role. Green public spaces such as parks and sports fields can facilitate recreational and organized sport.

Beyond the critical importance of physical activity, the International Day of Yoga speaks to another public health imperative: harnessing the full potential of traditional knowledge systems. Across the South-East Asia Region, WHO is promoting the safe and effective use of traditional medicine by regulating, researching and, where appropriate, integrating it into national health systems. By encouraging positive health care experiences, and by embracing the principle of preventive health, we can establish the individual and social habits that catalyze real change.

As the International Day of Yoga demonstrates, the art of being active is one each of us can master. As with other aspects of health and wellbeing, it is one for which millennia-old systems of knowledge and practice can show the way.


Though finding time for exercise can be challenging, it is fundamental to life-long health and wellbeing. The 5000-year-old practice of yoga is considered an effective way to increase strength and flexibility, enhance cardio-fitness, burn calories and relax the mind. It has also been known to help cultivate routine and integrate physical activity into daily life.

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