FOCUS ON HEALTH
Get moving for your health sake
By Kim Jackson
Physical activity is an important aspect of our everyday lives. The World Health Organisation defines physical activity as movement of the body produced by muscles that require energy expenditure.
We tend to think of exercise when we hear the term physical activity, but in fact physical activity describes any time we are moving, whether at work, rest or play, even doing housework. So why the sudden interest in physical activity? Times are changing and it is now possible to shop, play and communicate from the comfort of our armchair. With the advent of the internet and other advances in technology, it is easy to fall into a sedentary (from the Latin sedere – to sit) way of life but this is not good for our health.
The World Health Organisation claims that lack of physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for death worldwide and a major risk factor for diseases such as stroke, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. The change in lifestyle choices are also affecting young people with more than 80 per cent of adolescents leading more sedentary lifestyles.
Being physically active has many benefits. It can not only lift your mood, boost your energy levels and help you sleep better. It can also improve coordination, balance, agility, speed, and reaction times but most importantly, it can lower the risk of developing life-threatening diseases and help to improve the management of long-term conditions. Some of the most common health-related benefits are:
- Improved blood glucose levels and reduced risk of diabetes
- Reduced blood pressure
- Balanced internal body systems to changing needs
- Reduce the risk of blood clots
- Improved blood flow to and from the heart
- Helps to control and lower cholesterol
- Improved cardiac function
- Reduced internal inflammation
- Improved mood and less symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress
So how exactly does physical activity help us to improve, prolong and extend the quality of our lives? For a very long time it has been recognised that our body responds to activity and exercise but most times we just focus on the weight loss. There are many other benefits of being active that go way beyond just losing weight:
Physical activity and cardiorespiratory endurance are often what we call fitness. It is our ability to run for the bus or manage to walk up more than two flights of stairs without getting breathless. The more efficient our heart and lungs are at supplying muscles with oxygen, the easier we can cope with extra demands. A good way of measuring this is to determine our maximum heart rate (MHR) and subtract your age from 220 to get the maximum benefit from our activities. It is recommended that we work between 55-85 per cent of our MHR for at least 20-30 minutes, two or three times a week. Initially, it will not take long to reach this marker and our recovery may take some time but as our system gets more efficient, this will be noticeably different. For people suffering from high blood pressure, this can be seen in lower values at rest and has also been shown to have a positive effect on our cholesterol levels.
Muscular strength is the ability of the muscles to exert force. Strong muscles can also help build strong bones. Every time we move our muscles contract but adding extra load can help build stronger muscles, and load does not necessarily mean heading to the gym. Doing push ups and squats are a great way to use your body weight to improve muscle strength.
Muscular endurance is the ability of our muscles to work without tiring. Our muscles adapt to what we do. So sitting in front of the TV or at a desk all day does not help improve our muscle stamina. Muscle strength alone is not enough. We need to change our lifestyles to include activity that allows our muscles to work for long periods. Just going for long walks is enough to change the structure, function and performance of our muscles.
Flexibility is also important to the health of our muscles and joints. Tight muscles mean less movement and performing a simple task like reaching up to the top shelf puts us at risk of overstretching and injuring a muscle.
All of these positive benefits will help you live a longer and healthier life. So take steps today to get moving, whether it’s going for a nice walk or joining the gym.
(Kim Jackson is a United Kingdom-trained physiotherapist who specializes in musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction, including back pain and sciatica, stroke and other neuro conditions as well as sports physiotherapy. She works at Bayside Therapy Services in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia.)