Physical Activity for Health
Doing regular physical activity can make you feel good about yourself and it can have a number of benefits for your health. For example, it reduces the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, some cancers, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis. Regular physical activity also helps to control weight, and may help to ease stress. Ideally, you should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on at least five days of the week. You should also aim to do a minimum of two sessions of muscle-strengthening activities per week, although these should not be on consecutive days.
What is physical activity?
Physical activity is any activity that you may do that helps to improve or maintain your physical fitness as well as your health in general.
It can include:
- Everyday activities. For example, walking or cycling to work or school, doing housework, gardening, DIY around the house, or any active or manual work that you may do as part of your job.
- Active recreational activities. This includes activities such as dancing, active play amongst children, or walking or cycling for recreation.
- Sport. For example, exercise and fitness training at a gym or during an exercise class, swimming and competitive sports such as football, rugby and tennis, etc.
Aerobic activities are any activity that makes your heart and lungs work harder. To gain health benefits, government experts in the UK suggest that you should do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most days of the week.
- 30 minutes is probably the minimum but you do not have to do this all at once. For example, cycling to work and back for 15 minutes each way adds up to 30 minutes. A recent study showed that even less time may have some health benefits.
- Moderate intensity physical activity means that you get warm, mildly out of breath, and mildly sweaty. For example, brisk walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, dancing, badminton, tennis, etc. However, as mentioned above, normal activities that are part of your daily routine (everyday activities) may make up some of the 30 minutes. For example, fairly heavy housework, DIY, climbing the stairs, or gardening can make you mildly out of breath and mildly sweaty.
In addition to the above aerobic activities, adults should also aim to do a minimum of two sessions of muscle-strengthening activities per week, although these should not be on consecutive days.
Muscle-strengthening activities can include climbing stairs, walking uphill, lifting or carrying shopping, digging the garden, weight training, Pilates, yoga or similar resistance exercises that use the major muscle groups. Ideally, the activities and exercises should not only aim to improve or maintain your muscle strength, but also aim to maintain or improve your flexibility and balance. A session at a gym is possibly ideal, but activities at home may be equally as good. For example, stair climbing, stretching and resistance exercises can be done at home without any special clothing or equipment.
A session should be a minimum of 8-10 exercises using the major muscle groups. Ideally, to help build up your muscle strength, use some sort of resistance (such as a weight for arm exercises) and do 8-12 repetitions of each exercise. The level (weight) of each exercise should be so that you can do 8-12 repetitions before the muscle group gets tired. So, for example, for the upper arm muscles, hold a weight in your hand and flex (bend) your arm up and down 8-12 times. This should make your arm muscles tire.
You can do the exercises one after another to complete a session. Or, you can split a session up over a day in, say, bouts of 10 minutes.
Tips when considering increasing your physical activity levels
Physical activity is not just for young sporty types. It is never too late to start to gain the benefits, no matter how old or unfit you are:
- If you are not used to physical activity, it is best gradually to build up the level of activity. Start with 10 minutes and over time build this up to 30 minutes. Brisk walking is a great activity to start with.
- One big obstacle is the uphill battle to become fit. Many people feel that the first few attempts at physical activity are quite a struggle. Do not get disheartened. You are likely to find that each time it becomes easier and more enjoyable.
- Try to keep physical activity high on your list of priorities. If one kind of activity becomes boring, try switching to another type. A variety of different activities may be better. Physical activity needs to be something that you enjoy or it will not be something that you will keep up.
- Some people set their goals too high. For example, aiming to run a marathon. This may take too much time, you may lose enthusiasm, and physical activity may become a drudge. Be aware of this pitfall.
- Use everyday activities as part of your physical activity programme. Consider a brisk walk to work or to the shops instead of using a car or bus; take the stairs in the office or shopping centre and not the lift, etc. Reduce the amount of time that you spend being inactive (watching TV, sitting in front of a computer screen, etc.).
- Remember to include some muscle-strengthening exercises.
- Talk to your doctor or practice nurse about the groups or initiatives in our local area. For example Exercise Referral Schemes, Walking Groups, Community Association Exercise Class etc. etc. There are programmes designed especially for people with various medical conditions (such as asthma, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, anxiety, depression or obesity) who may benefit from increasing their physical activity levels. There are also a number of government campaigns and initiatives aimed at increasing physical activity levels in everyone like Change4Life. Details are available from the practice – please ask. There are various websites with useful information and guidance on your chosen activity aimed at all levels of physical health. These are:
www.strollingstrouddisctrict.org; (this gives details of the walks in the Frampton area with walks to download).
www.stroud.gov.uk/healthdevelopment; www.disabilityinfo-strouddistrict.org.uk; (useful information on sports, art and play activities).
www.nhs.uk/livewell/fitness. This has links to a variety of activities and support for all ages including children under 5.
CB Sept 13