Friends stretching in park

6 March 2021 | Tags: Heart Healthy Exercise, Immune System, Mental Wellness, Stress Management, Weight Management

Every year, new studies confirm how critical movement is for our health – it is as beneficial for our brains as it is for our bodies! 

Healthy movement keeps us well physically, mentally and emotionally; it also sustains or improves our core functions, including our cognitive abilities (including memory and focus), and our mood.  Physical wellness is also what allows us to do the motions of daily life, like walking, sitting, standing, bending, and lifting.

Is ‘Exercise’ the same as ‘Physical Activity’?

No, definitely not!  Whilst these two terms are often used interchangeably, they are definitely not the same thing.

  • Exercise is planned, structured, repetitive, and aims to maintain or improve one or more components of physical fitness.  
  • Physical activity, on the other hand, includes exercise as well as all other activities which involve bodily movement, and are done as part of playing, working, active transportation, house chores and recreational activities. 

As you can see, ‘physical activity’ includes much more than exercise alone.  In fact, you may not engage in much (if any) exercise per se but nonetheless your daily life includes a lot of physical activity.  And this is great news – for as we will uncover, what matters is how much activity you do

Move as Though Your Life Depends on it. For it Does!

Now that we have established our terms, let us explore why physical activity is so critical for our health.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), regular and adequate levels of physical activity in adults has many tangible health benefits – including: 

  • Reduces the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer, depression and the risk of falls;
  • Improves bone and functional health;
  • Boosts immune system; and
  • Is a key determinant of energy expenditure, and thus fundamental to energy balance and weight control.

The WHO continues,

“physical inactivity is estimated to be the main cause for approximately 21–25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes and approximately 30% of ischaemic heart disease burden.”

Couple walking through park
Walking is one of the easiest (and cheapest!) ways to move – and when done with your partner or a friend carries additional benefits!

The Harvard Medical School describes what the connection between your brain and your body as a “two-way street” – this means that movement can change your brain too!  “Changing your posture, breathing, and rhythm can all change your brain, thereby reducing stress, depression, and anxiety, and leading to a feeling of well-being.” 

A recent study also found that when you move in synchrony with someone else, it improves your self-esteem.

OUR TIPS to Improve Your Heart Health Today

It is undeniable that physical activity is critically important for your health.  You need to move, and to move as much as you can!  And as you’ve learned, it is less important what you do but simply that you do something, anything, to be as active as possible.  

Rather than being predominantly sedentary with movement taking place only on a few days, your physical activity should ideally be spread throughout the week

We like the pragmatic approach of the American Heart Association – and so we recommend that you find ways to build short bursts of activity into your daily routine.  For example, you can park further away from your destination and so walk some more; or you can take the stairs instead of the elevator (this is something we do as often as we can – it’s also great for the environment!).  If you have a desk-based job, leave your phone or place your printer outside of your arm’s reach – that way, you will be forced into standing up and moving to where they are each located several times for the day.  And don’t worry about losing your productivity or concentration – remember, your mind requires your physical activity to stay healthy!

“It’s never too late to change old habits.”

Florence Griffith Joyner (American track and field athlete)

And Flo-Jo, as she was known, should know a thing or two about physical activity. She is the fastest woman of all time, with the world records she set in 1988 for the 100m and 200m still standing!

By Katrine Smith Tulloch-Reid

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