Most of us know the National Physical Activity Guidelines of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise — think gardening and brisk walking — on most, preferably all, days of the week.

But Health and the City author Caitlin Reid points out there are other guidelines too: think of movement as an opportunity, not an inconvenience; be active every day in as many ways as you can; and if you can, enjoy some regular vigorous activity — football, fast cycling or running for example — for extra health and fitness.

“The last point is for those who are able and wish to achieve greater health and fitness benefits, while the other three points recommend the minimum amount of physical activity you need to do to enhance health, ” she said.

The recommended 150 minutes can be accumulated throughout the week in many different ways, said Rob Newton head of the school of exercise, biomedical and health sciences at Edith Cowan University.

If you prefer a vigorous intensity, then it drops to 120 minutes.

“(It) can be five lots of 30 or three lots of 50. Thirty minutes per day could be accumulated in three lots of 10 minutes, ” he said. “Or 120 minutes of vigorous exercise per week could be achieved simply, through to 60-minute higher intensity workouts.”

He added that it was also important to include some resistance training; preferably three sets of six to eight different exercises performed twice per week. “But how these exercises are spread across the week is not nearly as important as the mere act of completing them.”

Professor Newton also stressed that fat was not as important as being fit.

“The key to health is aerobic and strength fitness. This is more important than anything else. You can be fat and fit and your risk of dying is less than someone of ‘healthy’ weight who is sedentary.”

The key to health is aerobic and strength fitness. This is more important than anything else.

Anything is better than nothing!

The figures are worrying: two-thirds of Australians either have a low level of physical activity or are sedentary, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. And shockingly, physical inactivity is estimated to be responsible for more than 16,000 premature deaths each year in this country.

A sedentary lifestyle is the greatest challenge facing health in Australia, according to Professor Newton, and research shows it is one of the biggest risk factors of chronic disease.

“Our genetics require us to be active every day to function normally and maintain both mental and physical health, ” he said. “Even once per week will provide more protection than any pharmaceutical currently on the market.”

“It should be our number-one priority each day. What else could be more important than avoiding death and disability?”

More mature in years?

Not sure if you still need as much activity? Professor Newton said the standard 150 minutes aerobic and two resistance training sessions a week still applied.

“In sedentary older people, initiating and staying with this recommendation has been demonstrated in hundreds of quality research studies to result in large improvements in physical function, quality of life, reduced illness, and to actually prolong life.”

Vitalogy exercise physiologist Rob Suriano said many studies had demonstrated the benefits of strength or resistance training on quality of life.

“But this does not necessarily mean hours in a gym ‘pumping iron’. Many resistance exercise can be completed utilising your own body weight or include incidental activity, such as using stairs.”

Don’t want to become a gym addict? Well, you don’t have to!

•Take the family to the park for a game of cricket or touch football or go on a bike ride. Pack yourself a healthy lunch and make a day of it.

•Catch up with your friends for a walk or jog, game of tennis or day at the beach, rather than sitting around at a restaurant or pub.

•Train for something like a marathon or half marathon. You can raise money for a great cause and you get such a fantastic feeling of accomplishment when you cross the finish line.

•Utilise your local environment, whether it be bushland, a park, the beach, cycling track, golf course or local swimming pool.

•Take up a sport so activity is fun and social, rather than a task.

•Exercise with your partner or friends so you can help motivate each other.

•Don’t underestimate incidental physical activity. We all just need to choose the active way to do things, rather than thinking it’s an inconvenience.


© The West Australian

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