We all have been told by health professionals, social media, and more than likely by our mums, that ‘exercise is good for your health’, but do we really understand the importance of it?
Exercise reduces the risk of developing chronic illnesses, disease and obtaining an injury, by increasing muscular strength, decreasing fat mass and improving overall functional capacity. But how do we know we are getting enough exercise to reap these benefits? A great place to start is Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavioural guidelines. These guidelines, based on current research findings, give us the minimum physical activity requirements to improve our health.
According to the guidelines, it is recommended to do a total of at least 2.5 hours of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. If you currently do not do any exercise, that’s okay - we all must start somewhere! You can begin with 1.5 hrs a week and gradually build up to the recommended time.
The easiest way to start is to try and break the time up throughout the week. Take the dog out for a walk or vacuum all the rooms in your house; there are many little ways you can be active during the week to accumulate the minimum time required. You don’t have to go out for a jog, if that’s not your thing!
Muscle strengthening activities should ideally be done at least 2 days a week to maintain the strength needed for daily living, e.g. walking to the bus, going to the shops etc. While going to the gym is great to build strength, exercises at home using your own body weight are just as effective. Squats, lunges, and push ups are great overall body weight exercises. Adding dumbbells or resistance bands are an easy way to progress when you feel your strength improving. If you don’t have these, raid your pantry – you’ll find plenty of things in there with an exact weight printed on the label. (Yes – use a can of soup instead of a dumbbell!)
The most important thing to avoid is being sedentary (a person/way of life that is mostly spent sitting/lying/or merely inactive). This can lead to the early onset of (preventable) health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes or atherosclerosis. If your job requires you to be at a desk, try setting a goal to stand up and move around every hour. There are many apps for this, but the simplest thing to do is to just set alarms on your phone.
If you have a meeting, suggest going for a walk instead of sitting in a conference room. Or if you are watching TV, get up and do some squats during the ad break (or get up and change the channel!). Every little step counts.
If your life is hectic and you can’t see any spare time to be active – don’t despair. Try and incorporate things from your day into an activity. If you take public transport, get off a stop or two ahead of yours and walk the rest of the way, use the stairs instead of the lift, or park your car further away at the shops. If you have a way to measure your steps, you will see how much these little things accumulate.
Remember -any activity is better than none, so as you go about your day, be conscious of what steps you’re taking to be active. There are always opportunities to incorporate exercise into your schedule, you just need to be willing to look for them.