People in the UK are approximately 20% less active now than in the 1960’s. This could be partly due to technology making our lives a lot easier and most people now drive or take public transport rather than walking. Fewer people are undertaking manual work and most jobs involve little physical effort. The physical demands of shopping and chores have reduced, meaning that people are moving less and burning less energy than previous generations. If current trends continue, people will be 35% less active by 2030.
Physical activity has huge potential to enhance many aspects of our lives that extend much further than weight management. Research shows that regular exercise can help improve our wellbeing and reduce and even prevent the risk of several diseases and health conditions. Low physical activity is one of the top 10 causes of disease and disability in England.
“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save and preserve it”. Plato
The Benefits of Physical Activity:
- Mental Wellbeing – A short burst of 10 minutes’ brisk walking increases mental alertness, judgement skills, energy and positive mood. Regular exercise can reduce the risk of depression, aids in managing stress and can improve sleep.
- Weight Management – Physical activity plays a critical role in controlling weight. Weight is gained when the calories burnt, including those during activity, are less than the calories consumed.
- Obesity – Physical activity helps to reduce body fat by improving the body’s ability to use calories and by building/preserving muscle mass.
- Muscle and Bone Strength – Regular weight baring exercise promotes bone formation and may prevent forms of bone loss e.g. osteoporosis and can reduce fractures and falls. By increasing muscle strength and improving flexibility and posture, regular exercise can help to prevent back pain.
- Blood Pressure – Physical exercise reduces blood pressure and reduces body fat which is associated with high blood pressure.
- Heart Health – Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes due to strengthening the heart muscle from exercise, lowering blood pressure, raising good cholesterol (HDL) levels and lowing bad cholesterol (LDL) and improving blood flow.
- Diabetes Type 2 – Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Research shows that lower rates of these conditions are seen with 120-150 minutes a week of moderate-intense aerobic activity. For people who already have type 2 diabetes, regular exercise can help to control blood glucose levels.
- Reduced Cancer Risk – studies have shown that physical activity can play a critical role across all elements of cancers, prevention, treatment, recovery and reducing the risk of recurrence.
The Department of Health recommends that adults should aim to be active daily for 30 minutes 5 times a week. See the image below:
Ways to increase daily physical activities:
- Take the stairs instead of the lift/escalator
- Walk/bike to work
- Park further away from your destination
- Increase the intensity of house work/gardening
- Take a lunch time walk
- Include friends/family members in activities
- Spend more time outside
- Take regular breaks from sitting down at work
- Get off the bus one stop earlier
- Reduce time spent watching TV/video games
- Join an exercise class/club
Only a few lifestyle choices have as large of an impact on your health as physical activity.
The NHS Choices website has a number of tools to help people get started with physical activity, including strength and flexibility videos, advice on taking up new sports, and advice on getting started with walking.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015) “Physical Activity and Health.” Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm
Department of Health (2011). “UK physical activity guidelines.” Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-physical-activity-guidelines
Davis C P. (2017) “Heath Benefits of Physical Exercise.” Available at: https://www.onhealth.com/content/1/health_benefits_physical_activity
Ekkekakis, P. et al. (2000). Walking in (affective) circles: Can short walks enhance affect? Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 23 (3), 245–275.
GOV.UK (2016) “Health matters: Getting every adult active every day.“ Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/health-matters-getting-every-adult-active-every-day/health-matters-getting-every-adult-active-every-day
Kouvonen, A. et al. (2005). Job strain and leisure-time physical activity in female and male public sector employees. Preventative Medicine, 41 (2), 532–539.
Mental Health Foundation. (2017). “How to look after your mental health using exercise” Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-using-exercise
NHS Choices. (2019). “Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults.” Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/fitness/pages/physical-activity-guidelines-for-adults.aspx