BACKGROUND Developing national physical activity (PA) recommendations is an essential element of an effective national approach to promote PA.
METHODS Systematic overview and analysis of national PA recommendations across the European Region of the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO European national information focal points provided information which was complemented through online searches and input from other experts.
RESULTS Information received until summer 2012 from 37 countries was analyzed. Sixteen countries did not have national recommendations while 21 countries did. For 17 countries, the source document was accessible. Seventeen recommendations referred to adults, 14 to young people and 6 to older adults. Most national recommendations for children and young people are quite similar: 12 countries recommend at least 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity PA each day, in line with the WHO global recommendation. Three countries recommend longer durations and one a lower one. In some countries, slight variations were found regarding the recommended intensity and minimum bouts. Only one country was fully in line with the WHO recommendations. Two countries have issued separate recommendations for pre-school children. For adults, most countries still follow the 1995 United States recommendations of "at least 30 minutes on 5 days a week". Three countries were fully in line with the WHO recommendations. Four countries give specific recommendations on reducing weight, avoiding weight gain or continuing weight maintenance. The six identified national PA recommendations for older adults are mainly similar to those for adults but underline that particularly for this age group also less activity has important health benefits; four countries also recommend balance training.
CONCLUSIONS About half of the countries for which information was available and likely less than 40% of all 53 countries in the WHO European Region have developed national PA recommendations. Further investment is needed to address this important step towards a comprehensive PA promotion approach. Much remains to be done for the 2010 WHO recommendations to be fully reflected in national documents across all parts of the Region and all age groups. In addition, avoiding extended periods of inactivity and overweight are only addressed by a minority of countries yet.