A certain amount of physical activity is significant to staying healthy. Failing which, we increase the risk of falling prey to lots of ailments and maladies. We have many myths surrounding activity, which we often use as excuses to put off staying active. Busting a few common misconceptions:
- Being active requires buying equipment, shoes, clothes and joining gym. Physical activity can be done almost anywhere and does not necessarily require equipment. Carrying groceries, wood, books or even children are good complementary physical activities, as is climbing stairs instead of using the elevator. Walking is a highly recommended physical activity; it is absolutely free. It is not imperative to go to a gym, pool or other special sports facility to be physically active.
- Physical activity is same as exercise.Physical activity is any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscle that requires energy expenditure. On the other hand, exercise is a subset of physical activity that involves purposive and repetitive movements with the aim of improving cardio-respiratory or muscular fitness. Exercise is carried out in a structured manner, often performed at a greater intensity [more vigorous].It is recommended that individuals engage in adequate levels of physical activity throughout their lives to benefit their health. Physical activity is a key determinant of energy expenditure, and thus is fundamental to energy balance. Different types and amounts of physical activity are required for different health outcomes.
- I’m very busy. Staying active needs time! It only takes 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five days per week to improve and maintain your health. However, this does not mean that physical activity must always be performed for 30 minutes at a time. It can be accumulated over the course of the day: a 10-minute brisk walk, three times a day; or 20 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes later that day. Simple things like taking the stairs, riding a cycle to work or walking some distance can accumulate over the day and can form part of your regular daily activities. Even if you are very busy, you can still fit 30 minutes of physical activity into your daily routine.
- Children are active; they don’t need extra effort. School-going youth need at least 60 minutes of moderate-to vigorous-intensity physical activity every day for healthy development. This can provide them with important physical, mental and social health benefits. Patterns of physical activity and healthy lifestyles acquired during childhood and adolescence are more likely to be maintained throughout the life-span.Appropriate practice of physical activity assists young people to:
- Develop healthy musculoskeletal tissues [i.e. bones, muscles and joints]
- Develop a healthy cardiovascular system [i.e. heart and lungs]
- Develop neuromuscular awareness [i.e. coordination and movement control]
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
Physical activity has psychological benefits for the young. It improves their control over anxiety and depression.
Furthermore, participating in a physical activity assists in their social development by providing opportunities for self-expression, building self-confidence, social interaction and integration. Physically active youth more readily adopt other healthy behaviours [e.g. avoidance of tobacco, alcohol and drug use] and demonstrate higher academic performance at school.
- Physical activity is for people in the ‘prime of life’, not for older people. Regular physical activity improves the functional status and quality of life of older adults. It is recommended that older adults should engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity like brisk walking, gardening, doing house-hold chores five days per week. Physical activity helps deal with many non-communicable diseases [NCDs] such as cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, hypertension, prevalent in older adults. It also helps improve mental health and cognitive function in older adults and helps manage depression and anxiety.Active lifestyles often provide older persons with regular occasions to make new friendships, maintain social networks, and interact with other people of all ages. Importantly, the benefits of physical activity can be enjoyed even if regular practice starts late in life.
- Only those in industrial countries need activity. At least 60 per cent of the world’s population fails to complete the recommended amount of physical activity required to induce health benefits. Physical inactivity is an independent modifiable risk factor for common NCDs that caused more than 35 million deaths in 2005. NCDs are now the major cause of death and disability worldwide. Importantly, 80 per cent of deaths from common NCDs occur in low- and middle-income countries.Levels of inactivity are high in all developed and developing countries. In developed countries more than half of adults are insufficiently active. In rapidly growing large cities of the developing world, physical inactivity is an even greater problem. Urbanisation has resulted low physical activity. In rural areas of developing countries, sedentary pastimes [e.g. watching television] are also becoming increasingly popular.
Courtesy: World Health Organization [WHO]
Recommended amount of physical activity
The recommendations outlined below are the minimum levels required to promote and maintain health. Since there is a dose-response relationship between physical activity and health, greater benefit is derived by exceeding these minimum recommendations. Importantly, physical activity can be accumulated throughout the day in blocks as short as 10 minutes.
Young [5-18 years]
- 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous- intensity physical activity each day that is developmentally appropriate and involves a variety of activities.
- 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity 5 days per week or
- 20 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity 3 days per week or
- an equivalent combination of moderate- / vigorous-intensity physical activity and
- 8-10 muscular strengthening exercises [8-12 repetitions] at least 2 days per week.
Adults over 65 years, should follow the same recommendations as adults with due consideration for the intensity and type of physical activity appropriate for their age.They should also balance their exercises and aim at maintaining flexibility.
Note: These are not WHO official recommendations. They are adapted from an evidence-based review by the American College of Sports Medicine / American Heart Association  and Strong et al .