Walking is man’s best medicine, Hippocrates. Our bodies were designed to move, not to sit most of the day at work, home or in an office.
There's no shortage of evidence that regular physical activity is good for you - flick through the pages of any health report and there’s sure to be a section outlining the benefits of exercise on our physical and mental wellbeing. And many of us have experienced ourselves just how satisfying it can be to climb into bed, pleasantly tired after a day of being physically active.
What are your reasons for getting more physically active?
7 good reasons to exercise
- Controls weight
- Combats health conditions and disease
- Improves mood
- Boosts energy
- Promotes better sleep
- Puts the spark back into your sex life
- Can be fun
Read more about each of these on the Mayo Clinic website. What are your reasons?
General and physical benefits of regular exercise are:
- Increasing ‘stamina’ or cardio respiratory endurance - making your heart and lungs deliver oxygen-rich blood to your muscle cells. Your heart rate will not rise as high with equivalent exertion, and will return to normal more quickly following exercise. You will also have increased your stamina for the everyday activities of life, not just for exercise.
- Increased muscular endurance – your muscles will be able to work longer and harder before they lose strength or feel exhausted (‘fatigued’). This effect can also see you feeling more able to cope with everyday physical tasks.
- Lowering blood pressure.
- Increasing good cholesterol levels.
- Improving bone health.
- Providing social benefits - whether you walk with a friend, play tennis with workmates, or form a social cycling team.
- Weight control - low intensities of aerobic exercise have the potential to use up the body’s fat stores. Interestingly, short bursts of high intensity muscular activity are more likely to use the body’s stores of glucose rather than its stores of fat as a source of energy for the exercise. Regular sessions of 30 to 60 minutes of low to moderate intensity aerobic exercise (at around 55 to 70% of maximum heart rate) can be an important part of a weight loss or weight management programme.
From preventing some cancers to alleviating depression, being physically active has a multitude of benefits over slouching on the couch.
- Regular moderate physical activity is good for your body - physically and mentally!
- Physical activity can help alleviate and prevent common conditions and diseases.
According to government studies, physical activity reduces the risk of death or ill health from many diseases and conditions, especially:
- heart diseases and strokes
- some cancers
- type 2 diabetes
- osteoarthritis and osteoporosis
- falls in older people
- depression and anxiety
- high blood pressure.
There's a whole range of other health benefits, including help with digestion and poor posture. Being active can promote regular sleep and a healthy body weight, avoiding the poor health effects associated with insomnia and obesity.
Regular physical activity is just as important for a healthy mind. Physical activity not only appears to reduce the symptoms and frequency of depression but, better still, reduces the risk of becoming depressed at all. It also improves self-esteem, coping skills and cognitive functioning among those living with depression.
How much exercise is needed to reduce risk?
The Ministry of Health has published a useful table outlining how exercise can help with various conditions and diseases. It also describes what type of exercise we should be concentrating on. Moderate exercise is beneficial in most cases and it needn’t be hard to slot into our usual routine. The New Zealand guidelines for promoting physical activity define moderate-intensity activity as anything causing a slight but noticeable increase in breathing and heart rate. So get walking or swimming and you could be exercising your way to a long and, more importantly, healthy life.
If you have any of the following, you should see your doctor first:
- Are over 40, or
- have existing health problems, or
- muscle, bone or joint injuries, or
- you have not exercised regularly in the recent past.
Check with your doctor before undertaking an exercise programme.