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Physical Activity and Benefits of Being Active

Physical Activity includes a variety of activities and has significant benefits to overall health and well being.

There are many benefits to being active, improving health and reducing the risk of disease and illnesses is an important part of being active. Some of the key risks of Physical inactivity are Cardiovascular Disease, Obesity, Diabetes, Musculoskeletal problems, psychological well being and mental illness and Cancer.

Taking part in regular physical activity combined with other healthy lifestyle options can support in the prevention of being at risk of diseases and ill health. Being active can also have significant benefits should you be experiencing any of these conditions too. Physical Activity can be used as a reactive part of treatment and rehabilitation to support in health improvement and perhaps recovery.

The facts...

Cardiovascular Disease:

Physical inactivity and low fitness are major independent risk factors for coronary heart disease in both men and women. Inactive and unfit people have almost double the risk of dying from Coronary Heart Disease compared with more active people. There is also a significant relationship between being active and preventing stroke, peripheral vascular disease and reducing other risk factors of coronary heart disease such as high blood pressure.

Obesity:

Physical inactivity is contributing to the increase in the amount of the population who are classified as overweight or obese almost 25% of adults and 16% of 2-15 year olds are obese. Maintaining physical activity throughout life is important to prevent weight gain, physical activity alone however does not prevent weight gain but it is more effective alongside a healthy diet. The nation is becoming more sedentary in its approach to how we travel, our occupation, how we spend our leisure time and generally a less active daily routine. Energy that we take into our bodies in the form of ‘food’ will be stored as fats if we don’t burn enough energy on a daily basis to balance this out. Energy expenditure is a direct result of moving body weight and so any movement built into the daily routine will contribute to energy balance.

Diabetes:

Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes, with active people having a 33-50% lower risk compared with inactive people. Those that are of a high risk population can significantly reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by becoming more active. Also risk of premature death is much lower in active persons with type 2 diabetes than in inactive persons.

Musculoskeletal Health:

Physical Activity can increase bone mineral density in adolescents, maintains it in young adults and slows its decline in old age. This therefore can delay progression of Osteoporosis by slowing down the rate in which bone density is reduced.

There are also indications that Physical Activity can contribute towards delaying the progression of osteoarthritis and the onset of lower back pain. Activities that promote strength, balance and power are important in maintaining bone density and are significant for older adults to support in the prevention of falls. 

Mental Health:

Physical Activity helps people feel better; it supports in lifting mood, reduced anxiety and enhanced self-perceptions. People who lead an active lifestyle over several years have a reduced risk of suffering from clinical depression and those that may be experiencing mild, moderate or severe depression physical activity is often an effective treatment. The social benefits of being active can often be as significant as the physiological especially amongst the older population that often experience loneliness and isolation.

Cancer:

Physical Activity is associated with a reduction in overall risk of cancer. It is highlighted however that for optimal protection activity should be maintained throughout life.

(Evidence on the impact of physical activity and its relationship to health, A report from the chief medical officer, 2004)

For physical activity to be beneficial to health there does have to be consideration of the frequency, duration and intensity of activity. The Chief Medical Officer’s Report, At least five a week highlighted some recommendations for health enhancing physical activity.

Children and Young People are recommended to achieve a total of at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each day.

Adults are recommended to achieve at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity per day on 5 days or more per week. This is also the case for older adults, there is an importance for older adults to keep moving to ensure maintenance of mobility and ability to continue activities of daily living and independence.

The recommendations of activity can be done in one session or alternatively they can be broken down into shorter bouts of 10 minutes or more. The intensity can vary, Moderate activity can mean anything which makes you feel warmer, makes you breathe deeper (although you should be able to talk) and increases your heart rate.

The launch of the ‘Be Active, Be Healthy Strategy’, A Plan for getting the nation moving has set a clear target of supporting more people to get active. As part of the Olympic Legacy there is a target to get 2 million people more active by 2012. This will be measured on the amount of people doing a minimum of three times 30 minutes of activity per week at a moderate intensity through a variety of physical activity options for example active travel and active recreation.