How To Stay Healthy
Whilst the headline benefits of physical activity are mostly well known such as losing weight or looking and feeling better; we know that exercise is good for our muscles
and bones and we need to be sitting less; according to the latest Active Lives Survey by Sport England only 62% of the population can be classed as being‘active’ and are meeting the Chief Medical Office guidelines for physical activity. To be considered ‘active’ the Chief medical officer says we should be doing a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity per week.
That leaves a whopping 38% of the population (over 17m people) not doing enough physical activity for health- in particular over a quarter of the population (11.5m people) do less than 30 minutes a week and are therefore putting themselves at increased health risks.
So if we know we should be moving more, and we know some of the headline benefits of physical activity but over a third of us are still not doing enough, what should we do?
Perhaps, we need to change tack slightly and start to talk about some of the other benefits of physical activity that might resonate more with the 38% of people that are not doing enough activity.
So how do you stay healthy and keep fit? And what are the top benefits of being physically active? We’ve asked our friends from Everyone Health and they’ve told us more about the 5 benefits of being physically active that you might not have been aware of….
1. It can reduce the risk of chronic/long term disease
Being active daily will help to strengthen your heart muscle, lower your blood pressure, raise your HDL levels (good cholesterol) and lower your LDL levels (bad cholesterol) and therefore improve blood flow and increase the hearts capacity. By improving these elements the chances of getting heart diseases or having a stroke are severely reduced by up to 50%. It is also medically proven that people that are regularly physically active have up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer, up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer and up to an 83% lower risk of osteoarthritis.
2. It can help your brain health and memory
Exercise affects the brain on multiple fronts; It increases heart rate, which pumps more oxygen to the brain, also it aids the bodily release of a load of hormones, all
of which participate in aiding and providing a nourishing environment for the growth of brain cells. Exercise stimulates the brain plasticity by stimulating the growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain.
Exercising in the morning before going to work not only spikes brain activity and prepares you for mental stresses for the rest of the day, but also produces increases
retention of new information, and better reaction to difficult and complex situations.
3. It can help skin health
Exercise can help to improve your skin health and reduce acne, wrinkles and dull skin as exercise improves circulation and the oxygenated blood carries nutrients throughout the body including the skin. In addition to providing oxygen to the skin, the improved blood flow helps to carry away waste products. As we age, studies show that skin starts to lose its elasticity so taking part in strength and toning exercise can help to reduce this.
4. It can reduce pain
Chronic pain can be debilitating and really make you feel down, but exercise can actually help to reduce pain. For many years the advice for any chronic pain was to rest
and be inactive which did provide temporary relief, however as we know inactivity can lead to other health problems as well. Several studies now show that exercise can help to control any chronic pain and improve the quality of life. Exercises such as stretching helps to lubricate the joints which will reduce aches and pains and mean you can do daily activities with less discomfort.
5. It can promote a better sex life
This is a lesser known benefit of physical activity however one that might resonate with a lot of people! Engaging in regular exercise can improve the cardiovascular system, increase blood circulation, tone muscles and improve flexibility, all of which can help to improve your sex life. Regular exercise also increases energy, burns fat and improves your mood and self-image all of which are important to have a healthy sex life.
So how much physical activity should we be doing and how hard should we doing it?
The simple answer is something is better than nothing! Start with something small, repeat it and gradually work your way up. The biggest benefits people will see is by
going from being completely inactive to doing up to thirty minutes a week. There are still huge benefits to be seen however from moving from inactive to fairly active and from fairly active to active.
The Public Health England guidelines state that the amount of physical activity adults aged 16+ should be doing is 150+ minutes of moderate intensity physical activity or 75+ minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity per week. These can be split into bouts of ten minutes or more. What we mean by moderate and vigorous are below:
Moderate Intensity – Activity that raises your heart rate but you can still speak comfortably
Vigorous Intensity – Activity where you are out of breath or sweating and can’t say more than a few words without pausing for breath.
Just as important for adults is we need to be doing strength training at least twice a week and sitting less for extended periods.
What kind of physical activity should we be doing?
Again, a simple answer to this is whatever activity you will enjoy and feel the most benefits from. A lot of people enjoy different flavours of ice cream so I wouldn’t advise people to always eat mint chocolate chip just because it is my favourite flavour. The same can be applied to physical activity. If you used to play and enjoy sport when you were a child then joining a sports club and taking part in an adult social session such as back to netball or walking football may be the best thing for you. However if you never really used to like team sports and prefer to exercise alone then something like the gym environment or following a couch to 5k running programme may suit your needs better. Other factors such as the cost of the activity, equipment needed, the time it takes, the distance the activity is away from you and the level of the activity e.g. beginner, intermediate, advanced will also be considered by the individual when they are making that decision on whether to take part of not. Different activity options will also suit different people depending on where their starting point is. For example it wouldn’t be appropriate for someone who is inactive to jump straight into a high intensity spinning class.
Things an individual needs to think about is why is being active important to me and what do I want to achieve. Once those questions have been answered than
there are a whole world of different activities to choose from with different benefits such as:
- Team sports e.g. football, rugby, cricket, hockey
- Racket sports e.g. tennis, badminton, squash, table tennis
- Low impact exercises such as yoga, pilates, tai chi
- Group Exercise classes such as circuits, spinning, Zumba
- Gym cardio and strength programmes
- Home exercise
- Heavy gardening
Always remember that something is better than nothing! Small improvements can be made around your daily life to get you more active, whether it is standing up instead of sitting down when you are on the phone to someone, taking the stairs instead of the lift, doing some squats whilst the kettle is boiling, standing up and walking around every time there is an advert break or parking the car a bit further away from your destination so you need to take a few extra steps, these small changes will help to change your mindset and attitude towards being more physically active.
Once you have joined the physical activity movement setting SMART goals and monitoring progress is a really good way to see if you are achieving what you set out for.
Results will not come overnight and expecting dramatic weight loss or a six pack in your first few weeks will not happen and it is important to understand this otherwise there is a high chance of drop off. Breaking a large goal into smaller goals will help to keep motivation high and increase the chances of you reaching your large goal. Sharing that goal with friends and family and talking about it regularly will also help you get there.
If you do drop off and forget to exercise for a week, or have one too many mint choc chip ice creams then don’t worry, life still goes on and it is never too late to integrate physical activity back into your life!
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