Physical Activity and Exercise
“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.”
— Plato (427–347 BC).
Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that require energy expenditure. Moderate physical activity means your breathing quickens, but you’re not out of breath. You develop a light sweat after about 10 minutes of activity, you can carry on a conversation but cannot sing. With vigorous physical activity, you are out of breath, you develop a sweat after only a few minutes of activity and can’t say more than a few words without pausing for breath. Exercise is a formal type of physical activity that is structured, which means you follow a programme with a specific goal.
Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has described physical activity as a “miracle cure.”
What are the benefits of physical activity?
- Helps you control your weight
- Reduces your risk of heart disease
- Can lower your blood pressure and triglyceride levels
- Helps your body manage blood sugar and insulin levels and reduces your risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Improves your mental health and mood
- Reduces your risk of dementia and keeps your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age
- Strengthens your bones and muscles and reduces the risk of osteoporosis and falls in older adults
- Reduces your risk of some cancers, including colon, breast and lung cancer
- Improves your sleep. Exercise can help you to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer
- Increases your chances of living longer. Studies show that physical activity can reduce your risk of dying early from the leading causes of death, like heart disease and some cancers
How much exercise should I do?
The guidelines for optimum health are:
- A minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week.
- Aerobic activities should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration.
- Muscle-strengthening (resistance), balance and stretching exercises should be done on 2 or more days a week.
Tips to help you increase your physical activity levels:
- Take regular breaks from sitting. Many of us spend most of our days seated, be it at work or at home. Try to get up and stretch or walk away from your desk every 20-30 minutes.
- Set realistic goals and be kind to yourself – If you are new to exercise, don’t be hard on yourself. Try to create a plan, starting with 10 minutes a day. Slowly building up may help you feel motivated to continue.
- Do your own household chores and your own food shopping.
- Take the stairs. An easy way to increase your daily physical activity is to take the stairs instead of lifts wherever possible.
- If you are using public transport try getting off a stop early, or if you are driving parking further away and walk part of your commute.
- Make it fun. Exercise shouldn’t be a chore – if we don’t enjoy it we won’t be able to keep it up for long. Whether it’s gardening, playing tennis or swimming, choose an activity you enjoy and can stick to long-term.
- Get active with friends and family – having a buddy is another great way to stay motivated with physical activity.
- To keep activities enjoyable add some variety or try something new like yoga or a dance class.
- Be prepared – Make sure you dress for the weather. You can wear an activity tracker like a Fitbit to monitor progress and help you stay motivated.
- Make sure you are safe – know your limits and make sure you do not overdo high-intensity activity. Stick to well lit public paths in the early morning or take a friend at night. Be aware of your surroundings by keeping your headphone volume to a minimum.
Walk, stretch, stand, climb stairs – in short, move your body and try not to sit for any longer than 20 minutes at a time. Any exercise is better than none – you can make it quick and easy if that’s all you have time for. By making time for physical activity every day you’ll be setting yourself up for better long-term health.