Additional pluses of exercise include:
- Lessened risk of heart attack
- Healthier blood cholesterol levels
- Lower blood pressure
- Stronger bones and muscles
- Improved ability to fall sleep
What’s more, exercise combined with other therapies, has also been shown effective as a treatment for mild depression.
Just 30 minutes of moderate activity per day can make a difference. It is advised that you vary activities to work your muscles, heart, bones and brain. Also combine stamina, strength and suppleness activities.
When jumping the mental hurdle that often springs up when people first contemplate getting fit, try the following:
- Choose a form of exercise you enjoy
- Try cross training
- Exercise with a friend
- Vary your exercise routine
- Exercise with music
- Start gently and set goals
- Keep a record of your progress to keep you motivated
Physical Activity Guidelines
Active Australia, an arm of the federal Department of Health and Ageing publishes guidelines for the minimum levels of physical activity required for good health. These are:
1. Think of movement as an opportunity, not an inconvenience
Where any form of movement of the body is seen as an opportunity for improving health, not as a time-wasting inconvenience.
The need for movement
The human body was designed to move. Over hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, humans have been active in the process of survival; hunting, gathering, farming food, collecting fuel and building shelter. But the technology of today has reduced much of the opportunity for human movement. Cars now reduce how much we walk. Machines and labour-saving devices carry out work for us both in the workplace and at home. Home entertainment such as TVs, videos, DVDs and computers, can keep us inactive for long periods.
The result is that human movement has been decreasing, but at the same time levels of obesity and other health problems have been increasing.
Changing the way we think about movement
We need to change our attitude toward physical activity if we are serious about our long-term health. If we view all movement as an opportunity, rather than an inconvenience, we will be taking a positive step towards better health and preventing illness. We can enjoy the benefits of modern technology without the negative health consequences.
2. Be active every day in as many ways as you can
Make a habit of walking or cycling instead of using the car, or do things yourself instead of using labour-saving machines.
The increase in effort-saving technology in modern societies has coincided with increasingly busy lifestyles. So, we not only have less opportunity to be active, but seem to have less time. However, it is possible to regain some of the health benefits of regular movement by being more active in everyday life.
Being active in small ways throughout the day is likely to provide health benefits to almost everyone, no matter what your age, body weight, health condition or disability.
Ways to increase activity
Increases in daily activity can come from small changes made throughout your day - they all add up. It is important to remember that some activity is better than none, and more is better than a little.
To make a habit out of increasing activity in your day, you can:
- Walk or cycle instead of using the car
- Park further away from your destination and walk the rest of the way
- Walk or cycle to and from your tram/train station or bus stop, and get on and off at a stop that is further away
- Take the stairs instead of the lift
- Walk rather than rest on escalators or travelators
- Work in the garden
- Play with children in an active way
- Walk or play with pets; and
- Challenge family, friends and work colleagues to be active with you.
3. Put together at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days
You can accumulate your 30 minutes (or more) throughout the day by combining a few shorter sessions of activity of around 10 to 15 minutes each.
Moderate-intensity activity isn’t hard
Moderate-intensity activity will cause a slight, but noticeable, increase in your breathing and heart rate. A good example of moderate-intensity activity is brisk walking, that is at a pace where you are able to comfortably talk but not sing. Other examples include mowing the lawn, digging in the garden, or medium-paced swimming or cycling.
Moderate-intensity activity doesn’t have to be continuous. Research has shown that accumulated short bouts of moderate intensity activity are just as effective as continuous activity at improving indicators of health such as blood pressure and blood cholesterol.
So you can:
accumulate your 30 minutes or more throughout the day by combining a few shorter sessions of activity of around 10 to 15 minutes each; or do 30 minutes or more continuously.
Moderate-intensity activity should, however, be carried out for at least 10 minutes at a time without stopping.
For best results combine an active lifestyle with healthy eating
In general, this means eating a wide variety of nutritious foods including plenty of vegetables, legumes, fruits, breads and cereals (preferably wholegrain). It also involves choosing foods that are low in fat (particularly saturated fat), salt and include only moderate amounts of sugars and foods containing added sugar. If you drink alcohol, limiting your intake is recommended. More information on healthy eating and the Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults can be obtained from the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.
4. If you can, also enjoy some regular, vigorous exercise for extra health and fitness
This guideline does not replace Guidelines 1-3. Rather, it adds an extra level for those who are able, and wish, to achieve greater health and fitness benefits.
Research has shown that people who participate in regular vigorous activity can get health and fitness benefits over and above the benefits they get from increasing daily movement or regular moderate-intensity activity. This includes extra protection against heart disease.
How hard is vigorous activity?
“Vigorous” implies activity that makes you “huff and puff”, for example where talking in full sentences between breaths is difficult. Vigorous activity can come from sports such as football, squash, netball and basketball and activities such as aerobics, circuit training, speed walking, jogging, fast cycling or brisk rowing. For best results, this type of activity should be carried out for a minimum of around 30 minutes, three to four days a week.
Seeking medical advice
Although there’s no age barrier to carrying out vigorous activity, medical advice is recommended for those who have been previously inactive, who have heart disease, have close relatives with heart disease, or who have other major health problems.
Vigorous activity in pregnancy is not recommended without strict medical supervision.
Warm-up, cool-down, stretching and a gradual build-up from an inactive level are also recommended with vigorous activity, in line with most recommended fitness training programs.
Nutrition and energy for exercise
Nutrients play a vital role in making energy inside your cells. Deficiencies of these nutrients can cause fatigue, low blood sugar levels, sugar cravings, muscle twitches, insomnia and even hair loss. Some of the main energy nutrients are:
- B vitamins: essential for conversion of sugar into energy
- Chromium: works with insulin in moving sugar into your cells, where it can be burned to produce energy
- Iron: an essential part of haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells. It carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. Oxygen is needed for energy production in cells
- Zinc: important for growth, vision, smell, taste, immune health, skin and energy production
- Selenium: an antioxidant that protects cells from free radical damage
- Magnesium: essential for energy production in cells. Deficiencies can cause muscle twitches, cramps, fatigue, insomnia, stress; and
- Iodine: used to make thyroid hormone, required for maintaining overall metabolic rate.