The human body has been designed to move regularly, but modern technology has unfortunately made it more convenient for people to remain inactive and has turned many of us into couch potatoes. Scientific evidence, especially since the 1970's, has shown that the body responds positively to physical activity. There are many benefits, including for the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, respiratory and endocrine systems. Some of the health benefits are reduced risks of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, colon cancer, type 2 diabetes and premature mortality.
An ideal time for you to start becoming more physically active is over the coming holidays – maybe make it your new year's resolution – and it really doesn't take much effort or time to get started. It may also be the most important step in your life.
How often and at what intensity should I exercise for health benefits?
Any exercise is better than no exercise. However, most of the scientific literature today recommends that you exercise at a moderate intensity (during which you are able to make conversation with a training partner) five or more times a week, or at a more vigorous intensity (where talking is more difficult and you may have to gasp for breath within or between sentences) three times a week. You could also break down the length of your exercise sessions into three 10 minute sessions a day.
What type of exercise should I do?
This depends on your reasons for doing exercise. You may, for example, want to improve stamina and your circulatory system in which case choosing aerobic exercises such as brisk walking, jogging, continuous swimming or cycling may suit you. If you are trying to build or tone muscle, then resistance training such as weight training or calisthenics (exercises using your body weight, such as push ups) would be more suited to you.
Whatever your goals, make sure that you find the type of exercise that is appropriate for you and that you enjoy. For health reasons it is a good idea to combine aerobic exercise, some resistance training and flexibility into your program. An example would be to go for a walk for 20 to 30 minutes then do one set of abdominal exercises, a set of push-ups and some stretching on the lounge floor.
Incidental exercise is another way to improve your fitness and health in a way that fits into your day.
Examples of Incidental Exercise
Using the steps rather than the escalator
Parking your car further from the shop
Vacuuming the house with more intensity and more often
Gardening more speedily
Hiding the remote controls, stretching and doing some exercise during TV ad breaks
Taking the kids to the park or beach and playing with them
Walking up and down the shop aisles non-stop is a good way to exercise while your spouse shops – it could give you a good few hours of exercise!
The list is never ending…
Are there any precautions that I should know about?
Before starting an exercise program for the first time, or if you have had a long break from exercising, it is recommended that you be evaluated by a physician to rule out any potential health risks. If you have a medical condition, or suffer from an injury and if your activity program is for the purpose of rehabilitation, it is recommended that your initial individualised exercise program be developed under the supervision of a health care professional. Once you know what exercises are suited to, and safe for, you and have been instructed on how to perform your exercises correctly you can then take ownership of the program and continue exercising on your own.
Other tips to consider:
· Exercise only when feeling well. If you are unwell seek advice from your doctor or health professional
· Adjust exercise to the weather – protect yourself from cold and hot weather, dress appropriately and wear sunscreen
· Avoid activities that cause joint pain
· Eat and drink sensibly, avoid fad diets or quick weight loss diets
· Ensure that you perform your exercises correctly and safely
· Don't become addicted to, or obsessed with, exercise. If you miss the occasional session it is not going to do you any harm
· If you find it hard to motivate yourself, ask a friend to exercise with you or join a sporting team
If you are feeling down, in a rut or feeling stressed, there is nothing better than doing some moderate exercise, so get those veldskoene on and get moving, and have a happy and enjoyable Christmas.
Richard Turnbull has been an accredited exercise and sports physiologist for 25 years. He has high level coaching accreditations in Australia and South Africa for rugby union and athletics. He was a fitness trainer and conditioner for the Springboks, the Natal Sharks and South African surfing and polocrosse teams in the 1990's. Richard has been living in New South Wales since 1997.