Physical exercise for a healthy lifestyle
“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” – Plato
What evidence is there that activity helps health?
Clinical research shows that physical activity contributes to the prevention of chronic diseases and is associated with a reduced risk of premature death. The greatest improvements in health are observed in those who are least fit and become physically active – which means that for people who are inactive, making small changes can make a big difference.
How does exercise help health?
According to the evidence, several biological mechanisms may be responsible for the reduction in the risk of chronic diseases and premature death associated with physical activity. Some of the ways physical activity improves health are:
Improved body composition - reduced abdominal (visceral) fat
Improved weight management
Improved lipid lipoprotein (cholesterol) profile
Improved metabolism of glucose and insulin sensitivity
Reduced blood pressure
Reduced systemic inflammation
Decreased blood coagulation (blood viscosity) etc.
Changes in endothelial function (the wall of blood vessel) may be a particular important adaptation to routine physical activity. Endothelial dysfunction (some changes in elasticity of the blood vessels) has been observed with aging, smoking, multiple chronic diseases including coronary diseases, stroke, type 2 diabetes, etc. Research shows that regular aerobic exercise improves vascular function in adults, independent of changes in other risk factors.
So how much activity do we need?
No matter the age and fitness level, physical activity and movement is an important piece of lifestyle medicine for anyone. The current recommendations for adults are at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, plus two or more sessions of muscle-strength exercises per week.
Exercise snacking is short portions of exercise spread throughout the day. Recent studies suggest that so called “exercise snacking” is as effective as long gym sessions and it will help you hit your health goals. The benefits of short exercises were first outlined in a 2014 study published in the journal Diabetologia, which found that “doing exercise as brief, intense ‘Exercise snacks’ before main meals is a time–efficient and effective approach to improve glycaemic control in individuals with insulin resistance”. This “exercise snacking” approach is the best for those who struggle to find time for regular formal exercise types of physical activity.
What do I need to do to be active?
Many of the things we do for fun (and work) count as exercise. So, whilst we can do exercise by going to the gym or out for a run, any exertion which raises your pulse and breathing rate slightly are forms of physical activity too. Therefore, everyday day activities such as raking the yard, playing with kids, ballroom dancing and vacuuming your room all count! So, as long as you are doing some form of aerobic exercise at least 30 minutes a day, and you include two days of strength training a week, you can consider yourself an ‘active person’.