On the eve of the 2012 summer Olympic Games, the first Lancet Series on physical activity established that physical inactivity was a global pandemic, and global public health action was urgently needed. The present paper summarises progress on the topics covered in the first Series. In the past 4 years, more countries have been monitoring the prevalence of physical inactivity, although evidence of any improvements in prevalence is still scarce. According to emerging evidence on brain health, physical inactivity accounts for about 3·8% of cases of dementia worldwide. An increase in research on the correlates of physical activity in low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs) is providing a better evidence base for development of context-relevant interventions. A finding specific to LMICs was that physical inactivity was higher in urban (vs rural) residents, which is a cause for concern because of the global trends toward urbanisation. A small but increasing number of intervention studies from LMICs provide initial evidence that community-based interventions can be effective. Although about 80% of countries reported having national physical activity policies or plans, such policies were operational in only about 56% of countries.
There are important barriers to policy implementation that must be overcome before progress in increasing physical activity can be expected. Despite signs of progress, efforts to improve physical activity surveillance, research, capacity for intervention, and policy implementation are needed, especially among LMICs.