Being active is one of the most valuable things you can do to help maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular disease. Getting active should become a regular habit and a way of life. Any activity that gets you slightly out of breath and the heart pumping faster, counts. Try brisk walking, cycling, gym classes, soccer, swimming, dancing, gardening or playing an active game with the kids!
In South Africa, over a quarter of men and almost half of women are physically inactive. The heart is a muscle and needs exercise to stay fit and healthy. The heart of someone who exercises regularly will beat 45-50 times per minute compared to someone who does not exercise regularly and whose heart will beat 70-75 times per minute. This means 36 000 extra beats per day and 13 million extra beats every year!
The price of physical inactivity (not taking part in enough physical activity) is staggering!
- It increases the chance of developing many diseases, including high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, diabetes, cancers, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
- Is linked with depression, anxiety, stress and poor aging.
- In comparison to those who exercise regularly, inactive people double their risk of suffering a heart attack and have a higher risk of dying immediately after such an attack.
The good news is that regular exercise can give you the most profound long-term health benefits.
What are the benefits of being active regularly?
Everyone benefits from physical activity: children, adolescents, young- and middle-aged adults, older adults as well as people who are disabled or who have disease limitations. Physical activity improves your quality of life, reduces your risk of heart disease and strokes, and provides many other health benefits such as:
- Reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome by:
- Lowering your blood pressure by 4-9 mmHg which is almost as much as some antihypertensive medications
- Lowering cholesterol levels and improving ‘good’ cholesterol levels
- Lowering blood sugar
- Improving blood circulation
- Exercises your heart, keeping it strong.
- Reduces your risk of some cancers.
- Helps to control your weight, if you follow a healthy energy restricted diet, by decreasing body fat, increasing muscle mass and increasing metabolic rate.
- Strengthens your bones and muscles.
- Improves your mental health and mood as it relieves stress, tension, anger and depression as a result of ‘feel good’ hormones being released during physical activity.
- Improves your ability to fall asleep quickly and sleep well.
- Improves mental acuity and wellness since physical activity increases blood flow and hence oxygen to the brain.
- Delays or prevents chronic diseases associated with aging, improves your ability to do daily activities and prevent falls, especially if you are an older adult.
- Smokers who exercise are twice as successful in their attempts to quit. Click here for more advice on quitting.
- Increases your longevity. When you are physically inactive, your body slowly loses strength, stamina and ability to function optimally.
How much exercise do I need?
Health benefits occur with at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity, but additional benefits occur with more physical activity. (Don’t believe us? Watch this) Adults:
- Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, which can be spread over the week however you like. E.g. 30 minutes 5 days per week.
- At least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week e.g. 25 minutes 3 days per week
- Muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 or more days per week for additional health benefits.
- Encouraging regular physical activity in childhood can promote these healthy behaviours into adulthood and can help to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life.
- Accumulate at least 60 minutes of enjoyable moderate-to-vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity every day. This can be spread across the day e.g. 20 minutes during 1st break, 20 minutes during 2nd break and 20 minutes after school.
- Time spent being inactive with activities such as watching television, playing computer or play station games, and cell phone use should also be limited to no more than 1 or 2 hours per day.
Which types of exercise work best?
- Any type of physical activity is good – anything that makes you move your body and increases the amount of energy (kilojoules) your body uses.
- Walking, dancing, gardening, cycling, swimming, team sports such as soccer or rugby, and other similar activities, including your daily household chores, are just some examples of simple but effective physical activity and can all contribute to your wellbeing and general fitness.
Moderate intensity aerobic activity Requires a moderate amount of effort, and causes a noticeable increase in the heart rate and a light sweat. You should be able to talk but not sing while doing activity at this level. On a scale relative to your personal capacity it’s usually 11-14 on a scale of 1 to 20.
- Brisk walking, dancing, slow cycling, water aerobics, walking your dog
- Housework and domestic chores, gardening (raking leaves, mowing the lawn)
- General building tasks (e.g. painting, roofing), carrying or moving moderate loads (<20kg)
- Using a manual wheelchair
Vigorous intensity aerobic activity Requires a large amount of effort, causes rapid breathing and a substantial increase in heart rate. You should be able to say a few words without stopping to catch your breath while doing activity at this level. On a scale relative to your personal capacity, it’s usually 17-19 on a scale of 1 to 20.
- Running, race walking, jogging, fast dancing, fast cycling, aerobics
- Walking, hiking or cycling uphill
- Competitive sports and games, martial arts
- Heavy gardening (shovelling, digging or hoeing), carrying or moving heavy loads (>20kg)
Tips to get more active in every day life
Doing some physical activity is better than doing nothing at all!
- Find a friend or family member to exercise with, and choose activities you find to be fun, and try listening to music while you exercise.
- Start slowly and set realistic goals that you can work towards.
- Remember to wear comfortable clothes and properly fitted foot ware.
- Walk to visit a friend instead of phoning them, this saves money too.
- Walk with your child to school or to the shop, this way you get to spend more quality time with them too.
- Get off the bus, taxi or train one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way.
- Walk instead of taking a taxi, this also saves money.
- Take the stairs instead of the lift.
- If you use a car, park further away from the entrance to the shopping mall.
- Over the weekend, walk around the block, along the beach, or in your local park or botanical garden for pleasure and relaxation.
- Take opportunities to stand more e.g. when speaking on the phone.
- Play with your children or grandchildren.
- Adopt a dog and take it for regular walks.
- Take a lunch break at work and go for a short walk.
- Get moving to your favourite music.
- Join a dancing group.
- Take up a new hobby or sport, such as a regular ball game with friends, or hiking, swimming or fishing.
Should I see a doctor before I become physically active?
- If you are middle-aged or older, are inactive, at high risk for heart disease or you already have a medical condition, you should seek medical advice before you start exercise or significantly increase your physical activity.
- Most healthy people of any age can safely engage in moderate levels of physical activity (e.g. brisk walking, gardening and housework) without consulting a doctor first.
- Walking is the safest and easiest form of exercise for everybody.