Ben Emanuel II
We all know how important it is to stay physically fit, but yet so many of us fail to meet even the minimal requirements of being active in order to keep our health. We spend our working hours hunched over a laptop, and our leisure time watching television or browsing the web. You are probably reading this article staring at your cell phone screen right now!
Because of the obesity and chronic disease epidemic, the government issued Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans ten years ago, in 2008. But, the plague continued, and it is even turning into a pandemic, spreading like a forest fire. Recently, in 2018, the second issue of this document came out. It’s a must-read, but a bit long though, and in this article we will simplify it for you, giving you 5 most important points, at least in our opinion.
Kids line up to take a kick at a soccer ball for exercise.
The document has a whole section speaking about pre-school children, ages three to five. This is interesting, but at the same time concerning. The reason why a document of this importance and magnitude talks about this for the first time is that obesity and posture issues occur earlier than ever, with children developing poor habits from an early age.
So parents, don’t just give a tablet computer to your children to keep them quiet. Spend time playing with them outside. Encourage activities early on, three hours per day optimally. It will benefit your child in many ways.
Physically, your child will develop adequate mobility and movement skills, but also ingrain new habits, that will stick for life. Active children have stronger bones, better cardiovascular fitness, more muscles, but also lower body fat.
But benefits go beyond physical. While playing with other kids your child will learn about socialization, team spirit, but also discipline and healthy competitiveness. Of course, it doesn’t have to be anything complicated – riding a tricycle, or throwing/kicking a ball with friends will do.
Later, at school age, physical activity encourages brain development and improves cognitive functions. Mental health and cognitive improvements are triggered by physical activity too, as depression occurs less among active children, and they have better concentration and learning capabilities.
Age is not an excuse! Older adults should restrain themselves from sitting all day and should move as much as possible. But, for significant health benefits, even older adults need to include both moderate and vigorous physical activities, ideally in combination for 150+ minutes every week. Muscle strengthening exercise should partner aerobic activity, at least twice a week. But, because bone breaking risk increases with age, older adults need to address balance, mobility, and flexibility directly. For that reason, multicomponent physical activity is the best option.
As for people with health conditions, disabilities or other groups (such as pregnant women), they should try to perform as much physical activity as it is safely possible, considering their condition. For most, low-impact activities such as tai-chi and yoga are excellent, but also muscle-strengthening activities.
In cases that adults are not able to meet the minimal 150-minute weekly activity level, they should not give up but rather do as much as they can, as it all adds up. In many cases, even light activity levels will prevent the condition from progressing, and often improve it significantly. For example, physical activity reduces the risk of heart disease by 30-40%, which is the leading cause of death in people with type-2 diabetes.
For massive health benefits, you should only do 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week. Don’t ever say again how you don’t have time for working out! You just need to squeeze in one trip to the gym during the workweek, and two more during the weekend, and that’s all it takes to stay healthy. If you don’t want to do that, that’s OK; it’s your life. But at least admit that you don’t care about your health, and stop making excuses how time is the primary factor.
And remember, any activity counts – even raking leaves, walking your dog, or playing an arcade dance game. People treat physical activities like chores, something that they are forced to do. If it’s boring, you won’t do it, but there are so many different types of activities, and you have to find something you like. Once you start doing it, you will love it in no time; it’s in human nature – we are designed to stay active.
There are different types of activities – moderate/vigorous aerobic, muscle strengthening, bone strengthening, those targeted to improve balance/mobility/flexibility. But the truth is that most of the common activities engage more than one group.
Basketball, for example, is both aerobic and will practice balance and strengthen bones as well as muscles of the lower musculature. When you go swimming, you can swim for laps, which is high intensity, or you can just casually swim which counts as moderate exercise. Swimming also develops muscles and promotes flexibility.
Just pick activities that you like, but try to mix them up. You can go for a swim during the weekends, hit the gym after work, and cycle with friends or go to an indoor rock climbing with colleagues.
It is easy to get ahead of yourself and sign up straight for that CrossFit class. While there is nothing wrong with that, it is not the best idea for everyone.
You need to be honest with yourself and access your current situation. If you are severely obese, you need to start with something low-intensity, such as indoor cycling. Once your bones, ligaments, and tendons get used to it, you build up some stamina and lose some weight, you can move to outdoor cycling. Swimming is another good option.
And if you have some health problems, disabilities or certain conditions, the best idea is to consult your doctor first. He/she will recommend you what type of activity matches your current fitness level and health conditions so that you can do them safely.
Also, certain coaches specialize training people with different needs, and there are even group classes with the same goal – for example, yoga and Pilates for pregnant women.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is a remarkable document, and you should definitely read it, and keep it at hand all the time. It will do a lot to wake you up, and motivate you to start with some type of physical activity.
Even if you are entirely out of shape, old, sick, or have special needs, there is always something you can do for your health physically. So no excuses, go out there, and start improving your life, today!