Physical inactivity has been recognised by the World Health Organization as one of the leading causes of death due to non-communicable disease (NCD), worldwide. The benefits of action over inactivity can cut across health, environment, transportation, sport, culture and the economy. Despite the evidence, the policies and strategies to increase population-wide participation in physical activity receive insufficient priority from across high, middle and low-income countries; where physical inactivity is a rapidly-emerging issue. There is an increased need for all countries to invest in policies, strategies and supportive environments that inform, motivate and support individuals and communities to be active in ways that are safe, accessible and enjoyable. This commentary presents some recent efforts towards physical activity promotion globally, led by the Global Advocacy for Physical Activity (GAPA). It provides an overview of the background and history of GAPA; describes GAPA and the council's key achievements and milestones; places physical activity promotion within the global NCD agenda; presents GAPA flagships; and reflects on the lessons learned, ingredients for success and the major challenges that remain. The commentary documents insights into the effectiveness and challenges faced by a small non-governmental organisation (NGO) in mounting global advocacy. These lessons may be transferrable to other areas of health promotion advocacy.