Physical exercise, balanced nutrition and lifestyle changes, can help combat various diseases. In fact, being active for 15-30 minutes every day by walking, brisk walking, running, dancing, and strength training can help you live longer and look younger.
Key facts about physical activity – WHO
- Insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for death worldwide.
- Insufficient physical activity is a key risk factor for noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes.
- Physical activity has significant health benefits and contributes to prevent NCDs.
- Globally, 1 in 4 adults is not active enough.
- More than 80% of the world’s adolescent population is insufficiently physically active.
Physical activity according to the World Health Organization, WHO is any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure – including activities undertaken while working, playing, carrying out household chores, travelling, and engaging in recreational pursuits.
Is exercise same as physical activity? The answer is no. Exercise is a planned, structured, repetitive, and aims to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness. It is a subcategory of physical activity.
Beyond exercise, any other physical activity that is done during leisure time, like trekking to and from places, or as part of a person’s work, has a health benefit.
How much of physical activity is required?
The World Health Organization, WHO recommends:
Children and adolescents aged 5-17years
- Should do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily.
- Should include activities that strengthen muscle and bone, at least 3 times per week.
Adults aged 18–64 years
- Should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
- For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or equivalent.
- Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
Adults aged 65 years and above
- Should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
- Those with poor mobility should perform physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls, 3 or more days per week.
- Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups, 2 or more days a week.
Note: In order to be beneficial for cardiorespiratory health, all activity should be performed in stretches of at least 10 minutes’ duration.
Benefits of physical activity and risk of insufficient physical activity
Are you struggling with your mental health, getting active may be one of the last things you feel like doing. But if you can muster the energy, evidence shows that exercise has a powerfully beneficial effect. According to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, found that physical activity is an effective prevention strategy for depression.
Prof Nanette Mutrie of the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Sport, Physical Education and Health Sciences says “We have known for a long time that exercise promotes physiological and neurochemical responses that make you feel good, when we exercise, the brain releases endorphins, as well as dopamine and serotonin. Very often, these same chemicals form part of antidepressant drugs”. There’s this synergy of positive things that is happening when you are exercising.
A London-based personal trainer, Sarah Overall, says If you are struggling with your mental health and are anxious about exercise, the best advice is to start small. “Take it slowly and be proud of every step you take.” She also says you will have setbacks along the way and shouldn’t feel discouraged. Overall suggests exercising with a trusted friend, so that you have someone to check in with if you are feeling anxious.
Mutrie suggests a simple walking programme. He says “Aim to increase the amount you are walking over the course of a month. Start with walking for 10 minutes a day and gradually up it.” Most smartphones now have pedometers, so you can track your steps: 7,000 steps a day is a good target to set for yourself, with the aim of eventually increasing it to the recommended 10,000 steps daily by the American Heart Association.
Regular physical activity of moderate intensity – such as walking, cycling, or doing sports – has significant health benefits for all ages. By becoming more active throughout the day in relatively simple ways, people can quite easily achieve the recommended activity levels.
According to WHO, regular and adequate levels of physical activity:
- improve muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness;
- improve bone and functional health;
- reduce the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, various types of cancer (including breast cancer and colon cancer), and depression;
- reduce the risk of falls as well as hip or vertebral fractures; and
- are fundamental to energy balance and weight control.
Do you know that people who are not sufficiently active have a 20% to 30% increased risk of death compared to people who are sufficiently active? Insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for global mortality and is on the rise in many countries.
How to increase physical activity?
If you have not physically active, you can start today. Take deliberate action to include physical active in your daily schedule. For example, walking round your compound, jogging in the morning or evening, choose to use the stair case instead of elevator, trekking some distance when going to board a vehicle, after seating for a while stand up and walk round, planned exercises like gym, yoga and other sporting activities among others. Gradually grow in it, i.e start small for your body to get used to it. Also, there are plenty of fitness videos online that you can do at home. Download and use them to improve your physical activity. Always consult your physician if you have any health challenge before you engage in any form of intense exercise. Both public and private organizations are also to adopt policies in a range of sectors to promote and facilitate physical activity.