How Active Are You? Go on, be honest with yourself! In reality, if you’re like the typical Australian, the answer is…not that much. The Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey 2011-2012 found that almost 70% of Australians – an overwhelming majority of the population – don’t do enough exercise, instead spending prolonged periods of time sitting down or only engaging in low levels of physical activity.
So, what’s the problem with not being active?
Not being active enough has a terrible impact on our health, and is a contributor to a range of physical and mental health illnesses. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2017 study found that where physical inactivity was a factor, one third of deaths were due to coronary heart disease (33%). The other major causes of death were dementia (18%), diabetes (16%), bowel cancer (13%) and stroke (12%).
It’s not just physical health that is impacted by lack of activity. The National Heart Foundation of Australia published a paper referring to research that found that physical inactivity can be a modifiable risk factor in depression and an effective supplement to treatment of mild and moderate depression. The paper goes on to say that for older Australians with depression, planned and structured activity is considered an effective alternative to antidepressants.
The consequences of inactivity on society is enormous. The University of Sydney undertook a study in 2013 which estimated that the conservative cost of inactivity was A$90 billion worldwide and A$805 million in Australia alone. Of that A$805 million, A$640 million was in direct health costs while A$165 million was due to productivity losses. And it’s not just the economy, the taxpayer and employers who pay the price for our inactivity – just think about the toll on individuals and their families living with chronic illness and mental health issues. Not only do they face additional financial costs of obtaining medications and healthcare, there is often an inability to work that compounds the problem. Consider too the emotional strain of living with a loved one whose life is restricted by serious illness and the devastation of avoidable early death. Not a happy state of affairs.
How active is active enough?
What do we mean when we talk about getting active? The Department of Health has published guidelines about recommended activity levels and urge us to minimise the amount of time spent sitting down and break up periods of prolonged sitting as often as possible. The guidelines also state that any physical activity is better than none but recommends the following:
- Adults aged 18-64:
- muscle strengthening at least 2 days per week with either;
- 150-300 minutes (2.5 to 5 hours) of moderate intensity activity per week;
- 75-150 minutes (1.25 to 2.5 hours) of vigorous activity per week;
- a combination of both.
- muscle strengthening at least 2 days per week with either;
- Adults aged over 65:
- Be physically active for 30 minutes or more each day.
How do you measure up to the recommended guidelines?
Keep a diary of what you do each day and for how long, and be honest!! If you wear an activity tracker, take a good look at the data recorded as there is a wealth of valuable information that will help you work out whether you are active enough – depending on the device worn, you may have access to information about your daily active minutes as well as steps taken, distance covered, heart rate. Do you meet these recommended guidelines?
What type of activity counts?
The Department of Health guidelines state that moderate activity involves raising your heart rate but where you can still hold a conversation while carrying out activities such as brisk walking, swimming, dancing and gardening. Vigorous activity – where it is harder to breath and makes you puff and pant – includes activities such as aerobics, running and competitive sports.
NOTE: If you have a medical condition or haven’t exercised for a long time please consult your doctor before undertaking any activity plan.
Sounds a bit daunting…where do I start?
Don’t worry, there are many simple steps you can take that will make a difference – remember, any physical activity is better than none. By all means, start small but start somewhere. You can increase the frequency, distance or duration of activity gradually to the point where you are meeting (maybe even exceeding) the recommended guidelines. Just remember to sit less and move more.
What suggestions do we have? A 5-minute internet search and a brainstorm produced these very simple but effective suggestions – and have a read and see which ones you can implement into your daily life today:
- Get off the bus one stop earlier or park a little further away
- Take the stairs instead of the lift
- Stand up on the bus/train
- Walk the dog for an extra 5 minutes
- If in a sedentary job or at home, set a timer and get up and move around at least once every hour (preferably every 30 mins)
- Use a standing desk or stand up to take phone calls
- Take a walk at lunch time
- Use an activity tracker or pedometer to see how many steps you walk each day – set a goal and increase it over time to achieve a minimum of say 10,000 per day
- Do the gardening
- Spring clean the house
- Go for a family walk after dinner
- Carry the shopping in, one bag at a time
- Take up a hobby – dancing, swimming, walking club
- Do some lower body exercises while sitting – e.g. calf raises while watching TV
How many strategies can you can come up with (Please share in the comments section below)?
You don’t have to radically change your life in one go. Set yourself a few small but achievable goals and once you have reached them, set some more challenging ones. Then repeat and repeat!! In no time at all you will be fitter, stronger, healthier and more able to live life to the fullest.
What changes can you expect to see?
You get out what you put in – the more committed you are to changing your activity levels and the longer you stick to your plan, the greater the benefit to your health and wellbeing. Don’t forget too that you will get better results when you combine increased activity with improved nutrition (a whole other topic!).
Research points to these typical changes you might see as your activity increases and your strength and fitness improves:
- Improved health indicators like lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
- Weight loss
- Reduce your risk of some cancers like lung, breast, colon and endometrial cancer
- Improved bone and muscle strength
- Improved energy levels
- Improved sleep
- Improved mood and wellbeing, reduced anxiety and depression
- Improved brain function/ concentration and productivity (increased heart rate = increased blood flow to the brain)
Even just a few changes to your lifestyle that increase your activity can make a massive difference – the risk of early death is lowered by doing 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week and people who are physically active for 7 hours a week have a 40% lower risk of dying early than those who are active for less than 30 mins a week.
The first step is often the hardest but once you have made a start, keep going! You are on the right path to a healthier, happier and longer life.
Final Take aways:
If you follow these suggestions, within a reasonable timeframe, you will be approaching the recommended guidelines to living an active lifestyle.
- Start small, introduce a few of suggestions into your daily routine today;
- Increase the number of things you do and build up gradually – think about what will you commit to. For example, if you start by taking a short, brisk walk each day, how frequently will you increase the time commitment?
- Include some muscle strengthening as well as aerobic activity.