Daily physical activity can add years to your life and the more you are able to do, the better you will feel as a consequence. Exercise kick starts all the systems in your body as well as giving you a natural high which can leave you feeling good and wanting more.
Physical activity and health
There is a lot of research available which shows that regular physical activity is extremely effective in reducing the risk of developing serious diseases including stroke, heart disease, numerous cancers and type 2 diabetes. Regular physical activity can reduce your overall risk of premature death by as much as 20-30%.1
In particular, the risk of having a heart attack or stroke is reduced by around half by participating in regular physical activity in comparison with those who don't exercise.1
Exercise can improve the quality of your cholesterol by increasing the levels of your protective HDL and help your blood pressure control both at rest and during exercise.
Regular exercise can also significantly reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Finally, research has shown that regular exercise leads to a reduced risk of various cancers, especially bowel, breast and womb cancers. Breast cancer risk is reduced by up to 40%, womb cancer by just under a third and bowel cancer by up to 25%. Indeed, regular physical activity can reduce your overall risk of dying from cancer by around a third.2
You should remember that you don't need to be 'super fit' for the greatest health increase. Being moderately fit is enough and you can achieve this simply by 30 minutes of brisk walking on most days.
Moderate intensity activities can provide a great range of benefits to you, such as helping you manage your weight, reducing your blood pressure and risk of type 2 diabetes, increase your energy and concentration levels and reducing your risk of stroke and certain cancers. Some great examples of moderate-intensity activity are brisk walking, swimming, gardening and light cycling.
If you are already active, you may wish to increase your exercise intensity level to boost your health and fitness even further.
Vigorous intensity activities will provide all the benefits of moderate activity but they'll also help keep you fit, lean and toned. Jogging, recreational sport, swimming and cycling will all help you with this.
Here are some tips on how to build more activity and exercise into your lifestyle, including the key principles of exercising safely and effectively.
Motivational tips for keeping active
- Gentle stretching is a great way to start the day. You can do this either on your bed while lying down or soon after you get out of bed. Just a few minutes will be enough to loosen you up and invigorate you
- You should always remember to warm up before you exercise. Five to 10 minutes of gentle activity followed by some light stretching of the muscles you intend to use will help your exercise routine as well as helping you avoid injury
- Stay hydrated. Becoming more active means you need to drink more fluids before, during and after your work out to keep your body and mind functioning well
- Ensure you eat properly to keep your energy levels up and your body properly fueled. A light carbohydrate snack eaten an hour or two before exercise is ideal. A similar snack an hour or two after your activity can also help you to recover quicker
- Allow enough time between exercise sessions for your body to recover properly. The body regenerates and becomes fitter during this time so if you are feeling stiff and sore give yourself a couple of days to allow your muscles to recover
- Try some new activities - you'll get a wider range of cross-training benefits if you try and mix it up a little and your workouts will stay more interesting
- Train with a friend so you can motivate each other as well as getting that extra encouragement you may need
- Your schedule of increased physical activity should be realistic, so pick a time each day that is convenient for you to exercise
- When feeling unwell you should avoid any vigorous exercise. Instead, just maintain your stretching until you feel better again - allow your body to recover
- Use a diary to track your exercise levels. This will aid your motivation to keep going and you'll be able to see your improvements more clearly.
Please remember that if you experience any unusual or significantly uncomfortable feelings either during or after exercise, you should consult your doctor immediately.
In particular, you should stop your activity straight away if you feel any of the following:
- Light headedness
- Difficulty breathing
- Cold sweat
Seek immediate medical advice if any of the above symptoms are prolonged or significant, or if you feel pressure, stiffness or pain in your neck, chest, arm or shoulders.
1. British Heart Foundation (2008): Physical Activity to reduce cardiovascular risk
2. Cancer Research UK: http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/about-cancer/cancer-questions/can-exercise-reduce-the-risk-of-breast-or-bowel-cancer