GP Alice Fitzgibbon explores what you need to be doing to stay active.
This month we focus on exercise. Why? Because it is so important to our health. I think I mention exercise helping to lower risk the risk of developing or helping to control disease every month in this column. But do you know how much exactly is recommended by the NHS? Many people are surprised by the numbers, but any exercise is better than none! Exercising at any age can help you lead a healthier and happier life.
Lack of exercise is a modern problem that links directly to the diseases we see today. Our modern lifestyles mean we are less active in our jobs and daily lives. In years gone by, people were more active as they did not have technology to help with daily tasks and transport was limited. Now to have the same levels of activity as before, we need to work extra hard to make exercise a natural part of our daily routine. It could be as simple as getting off the bus a stop early and walking the rest of the way. Or taking the stairs instead of a lift. We need to create healthy habits to help us become active whenever we can!
Exercise is good for both physical and mental health. With regular exercise the risks of developing heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers including bowel and breast cancers, dementia, arthritis, falls and hip fractures is lowered. In terms of mental health, the research tells us that physical activity has a positive effect on self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy levels. It reduces your risk of stress and clinical depression. For something that is free and accessible to everybody, that’s pretty good!
So, coming back to the recommendations. The NHS advises that each adult between the ages of 19-64 years of age should be doing 150 minutes (2 and a half hours) of exercise per week, split over 4-5 sessions. So, that’s 30 minutes of exercise on most days. To get the most benefit there should be a range of activities undertaken; some to build strength in the muscles (at least twice a week) and some to get your heart and lungs working harder.
When you are active enough to increase your heart rate, breathe faster and get sweaty you are getting benefit from exercise. This level of effort is called moderate intensity activity. At moderate intensity you should be able to talk to someone easily, but you won’t have enough breath to sing out loud. Brisk walking, cycling, hiking and even lawn mowing are examples of moderate intensity exercises.
When you work even harder and put more effort into the activity it becomes vigorous intensity. At this level your heart rate is even faster and you will find you lose your breath. This level of exertion is even better for you as it really gets your heart and lungs working hard. Examples of vigorous intensity exercise include running, swimming, cycling up hill, team sports like football or netball and skipping. You have to do less vigorous intensity exercise to gets the same benefits as doing moderate intensity exercise.
Doing two sessions of strength building exercise a week might be something new. Or it might be that you already do this part at work. Heavy lifting, manual work like shovelling, heavy gardening, lifting children repeatedly, yoga and anything that you do with your own body weight e.g. press-ups, counts in this category.
So, we know the benefits of exercise are huge. Exercise helps people live longer. Most of us would benefit from trying to do a bit more. If you haven’t been used to exercising it can be quite daunting at first but it is never too late to start! Getting out for a walk every day is an excellent place to begin.
The NHS website has some useful tips, videos and exercise plans to follow to get you started- it’s well worth a look at www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/