We all know that exercise is important in our daily lives, but we may not know why or what exercise can do for us. It’s important to remember that we have evolved from nomadic ancestors who spent all their time moving around in search of food and shelter, traveling large distances on a daily basis. Our bodies are designed and have evolved to be regularly active.
Benefits of regular physical activity
If you are regularly physically active, you may:
- reduce your risk of a heart attack
- manage your weight better
- have a lower blood cholesterol level
- lower the risk of type 2 diabetes and some cancers
- have lower blood pressure
- have stronger bones, muscles, and joints and lower the risk of osteoporosis
- lower your risk of falls
- recover better from the period of hospitalization or bed rest
- feel better – with more energy, a better mood, feel more relaxed and sleep better.
A healthier state of mind
A number of studies have found that exercise helps depression. There are many views as to how exercise helps people with depression. Exercise may block negative thoughts or distract people from daily worries. Exercising with others provides an opportunity for increased social contact. Increased fitness may lift your mood and improve sleep patterns. Exercise may also change levels of chemicals in your brain, such as serotonin, endorphins and stress hormones.
Aim for at least 30 minutes a day
To maintain health and reduce your risk of health problems, health professionals and researchers recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days.
Physical Activity Guidelines
The Australian Government’s Physical Activity Guidelines state that:
- Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you currently do no physical activity, start by doing some, and gradually build up to the recommended amount.
- Be active on most, preferably all, days every week.
- Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week.
- Do muscle strengthening activities on at least two days each week.
Ways to increase activity
Increases in daily activity can come from small changes made throughout your day, such as walking or cycling instead of using the car, getting off a tram, train or bus a stop earlier and walking the rest of the way, or walking the children to school.
See your doctor first
It is a good idea to see your doctor before starting your physical activity program if:
- you are aged over 45 years
- physical activity causes pain in your chest
- you often faint or have spells of severe dizziness
- moderate physical activity makes you very breathless
- you are at a higher risk of heart disease
- you think you might have heart disease or you have heart problems
- you are pregnant.
Pre-exercise screening is used to identify people with medical conditions that may put them at a higher risk of an experiencing a health problem during physical activity. It is a filter or ‘safety net’ to help decide if the potential benefits of exercise outweigh the risks for you. Usually, the benefits will far outweigh the risks. Print a copy of the adult pre-exercise screening tool and discuss it with your doctor, allied health or exercise professional.