26th October 2018
Why we need to move frequently and exercise regularly.
The Oxford English dictionary’s defines exercise as “an activity requiring physical effort, carried out to sustain or improve health and fitness.”
We all know exercise is good for us, if not necessary or indeed vital for a healthy life. Very small babies love wriggling their legs and as soon as they can walk they are off like the speed of lightning. (1)
Remember having to sit still at school or church and being asked if you had ants in your pants? Well, it turns out all that fidgeting is good for us.
As we grow older exercise for many becomes less important as other commitments grow.
However, we should all make it one of our top priorities to maintain a long healthy, independent life. Yet, even if you do practice regular exercise most of us still need to move more on a daily basis.
In this technological age we spend hours commuting, sitting at a desk for 8 hour days with an occasional visit to the coffee machine or bathroom. Lunch at our desk, commute home and watch tv for a few hours before bed. How much movement do you have in your day?
(2)Inactivity for periods of less than 30 minutes in any one sitting correlated to a lower risk of death over a four year period based on studies at the Columbia University Medical Centre. Or put simply moving regularly could reduce the risk of death.
Inactivity is not your muscles' best friend. In fact, the more your muscles go unused, the more they lose tissue. Loss of muscle mass isn't uncommon in this inactive society. After the age of 30 inactivity can lead to 3% - 5% loss of muscle every decade. This obviously leads to lack of strength and also mobility, not something to promote for a healthy old age. (3) (4)
A sedentary life is not healthy for our circulation as fluid builds up in our ankles. Slow blood flow is dangerous as it can lead to clots and embolisms. Regular exercise is also required by the bones and muscles to maintain their mineral content and strength. Inactivity weakens the immune system and basically makes all of our systems sluggish. (5)
Lack of exercise means the strongest muscle the heart is not getting a workout, the lungs are not breathing to capacity, bowel movements slow down, maintaining a healthy weight is harder, the brain becomes foggy and memory deteriorates. It has been stated that 300,000 cases of dementia could be prevented if we lived physically active lives.
Did you know that being physically inactive increases your risk of heart disease and stroke by 50%? (6)
According to the World Health Authority, “physical inactivity has been identified as the 4th leading risk factor causing global mortality with an estimated 3.2 million deaths a year. (6)
What can exercise and movement do for us?
Regular exercise helps to prolong life and improve the quality of life. We tend to split types of exercise between aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic being cardio, whereby we increase the speed of our pumping hearts to deliver oxygenated blood to our muscles. Anaerobic, being spouts of short exertion, high intensity, eg weight-bearing exercise.
There have been many studies to show the benefits that aerobic exercise has to improve health and reduce the risk of disease.
The most obvious place we can see benefits is to our weight, in terms of helping us to lose weight and also maintain a steady weight. This, in turn, helps to reduce the risk of many of the chronic diseases such as diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Exercise also has a role to play in maintaining stable blood glucose and keeping insulin resistance at bay.
Aerobic exercise lowers blood pressure and maintains flexible blood vessels reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Doing just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day can help to reduce the risk of heart disease. (7)
Both depression and stress are helped by being outside and just walking. However, 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 or more times a week proves more beneficial. (8)
A growing body of evidence suggests we think and learn better when we walk or do any form of exercise. The reason for this happening, however, is not completely understood. However,
part of the reason exercise enhances cognition has to do with blood flow. Research shows that when we exercise, blood pressure and blood flow increase everywhere in the body, including the brain. More blood means more energy and oxygen, which makes our brain perform better.
The hippocampus a part of the brain critical for learning and memory, is extremely active during exercise. When the neurons here accelerate into action our cognitive function improves.
Studies infer that aerobic exercise can actually reverse hippocampal shrinkage, which occurs naturally with age and consequently boost memory in older adults. (9) & (10)
Yet another study found that students who exercise perform better on tests than their less athletic peers. (11)
So if you are having a mental block, go for a walk or a run.
Staying active and exercising helps to strengthen muscles and improve overall bone health.
Moving around positively affects the way the human body regulates blood sugar and insulin in the short term.
Being active and moving more is key to having a healthy heart. Try to be active in as many different ways as possible throughout the day, and reduce the amount of time spent sitting for long periods. Twisting, turning and moving in different ways to your normal form of exercise is also beneficial. Variety is key.
The heart is a muscle and needs exercise to help keep it fit so that it can pump blood efficiently around the body. Without regular physical activity, the body slowly loses its strength, stamina and ability to function well.
Oxygen in our bodies needs to flow and reach all parts to service their requirements for optimal health. Movement for many of our organs is like a massage, they feel loved and work with more enthusiasm. The lymphatic system which removes cell debris also flows more freely. (5)
We know that regular physical activity helps to prolong life, and now we know part of that advantage may be due to the preservation of telomeres. The length of our telomeres determines the length of our lives. (12)
By introducing just 30 minutes brisk walking a day we help to:
• Prevent heart disease,
• lower the risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke,
• give up smoking,
• establish healthy habits in children,
• build stronger immunity,
• reduce blood pressure (in those with high blood pressure),
• control weight and
• improve overall health and wellbeing, prolonging optimal health. (6)
For each hour of regular exercise, we gain about two hours of additional life expectancy, even if we don’t start until middle age! By increasing the amount of light activity twofold cuts the risk of premature death by almost 30%. This is after accounting for levels of moderate to vigorous activity and other factors such as smoking.
Life is busy and for many trying to fit in time for exercise seems a remote possibility. Consider some of the following ways:
1 Plan a time to exercise and stretch daily,
2 set an alarm to get up and move every 30 - 45 minutes,
3 hold walking meetings,
4 walk while talking on the phone,
4 is a standing desk possible,
5 take the stairs instead of the lift
6 park farther away from school, work, the station et al,
7 exercise while watching TV.
Remember it doesn’t always have to be big movements, sit at your desk and circle your feet or shoulders for 5 minutes or if you are brave enough practice facial yoga. Just keep on moving.