Physical activity is defined as "any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that result in energy expenditure." Physical activity or exercise can be vigorous severity to moderate intensity and include running, jogging, swimming, sports to walking, gardening, yoga, household chores etc.
The health benefits of physical activity are well established and scientifically proven:
- Helps maintain weight
- Lowers risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, and some cancers (breast and colon cancer)
- Strengthens muscles and bones
- Improves mental health and mood
- Delays the onset of dementia
- Stimulates neurogenesis- the growth of new brain cells
- Improves the quality of life, sleep etc.
- Helps with stress management
- Increases chances of living longer
Physical inactivity is one of the most important risk factors for developing chronic diseases or also known as non-communicable diseases (NCDs). These NCDs may cause disability or even premature death. They can be slowly-progressing and require long-term care. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the major NCDs identified include cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes. Research studies and reviews have indicated that NCDs are the major cause of death in the world killing more people annually than all other causes. A recent study showed that lack of muscle stimulus results in a buildup of inadequately processed proteins in muscle cells and consequently leads to muscle weakness or wasting.
As the civilization has progressed, a sedentary lifestyle has become more common in wealthier countries. This can be explained due to sedentary jobs, and also increase in technology, transport etc. Whereas, in lower-income countries people are more likely to be active in their jobs, by working in the fields, walking instead of the use of motor transport etc.
According to WHO (World Health Organization) report, more than a quarter of people worldwide, around 1.4 billion are not doing enough physical exercise, a figure that has barely improved since 2001.
Source: The Lancet
They found in high-income countries, which include the UK and the USA, the proportion of inactive people had risen from 32% in 2001 to 37% in 2016, while in low-income countries it had remained stable at 16%. Those who were classed as inactive did less than 150 minutes of moderate exercise - or 75 minutes at a vigorous intensity - a week. Women were less active than men in all but East and South-East Asia, with the biggest differences being in South Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and high-income Western countries.
So how much exercise do we need?
Although it depends on the individual, the basic guidelines as per WHO are as below:
- Adults aged 18–64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
- Aerobic activity should be performed in bouts of at least 10 minutes duration.
- For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or engage in 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.
- Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
- Walking fast, water aerobics, riding a bike on level ground or with a few hills, doubles tennis, pushing a lawn mower, hiking, skateboarding, rollerblading, volleyball, basketball etc.
- Jogging or running, swimming fast, riding a bike fast or on hills, singles tennis, football, rugby, skipping rope, hockey, aerobics, gymnastics, martial arts etc.
Strengthening exercises for muscles
- lifting weights, working with resistance bands, doing exercises that use your own body weight, such as push-ups and sit-ups, heavy gardening, such as digging and shovelling, yoga etc.
- In this fast-paced life, take 15-30 minutes out for yourself to focus on the physical activity you enjoy for not just physical fitness but also mental health.
- Respect your limits and start with gradual exercise as you build your endurance and stamina.
- Do not over exert - it may lead to more free radicals which can cause more damage than good.
- Exercise in the morning if possible - the body has more stamina and strength. Also, it helps energize and help prepare for the day.
- Yoga asanas, for example, are the ideal form of exercises for all ages because they help tone, stretch muscles while focusing on the breath to help restore the balance of mind and body.