Exercise, exercise, exercise! How many times have we heard this word, and how often have you been told about the tremendous benefits of being more physically active?
No doubt, this word has often played at the back of our minds, and yet, the call to action still remains as echoes in the deep recesses of our mind.
With urbanisation, advances in technology, and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle, physical activity or exercise outdoors has taken a back seat in our lives. What we must realise is just how important being physically active is for our health and well-being, as well as for our children.
The overall physical, psychological, social and health benefits of exercising far outweigh the risks of adverse events for almost everyone. Hence, it is vital to engage in regular physical activity as part of a healthy lifestyle.
"If you are not sure how to go about becoming active, start slowly. It is important to gradually increase your level of activity so that you do not risk any injury to your muscles, ligaments and joints, or even cardiac events, such as a heart attack, when you suddenly become more active than usual," advises Dr Mahenderan Appukutty, council member of the Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM).
"If you or members of your family have any chronic health conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, asthma or gout, seek medical advice to find out if your condition limits your ability to be active in any way.
"Then, work with your doctor or qualified physical trainer to come up with a physical activity plan that matches your abilities. What's important is that you avoid being inactive. Even 30 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity is good for you," adds Dr Tee E Siong, president of NSM.
Benefits of physical activity
Dr Tee shares a few more benefits of physical activity.
·Exercise and physical activity help in the primary prevention of osteoporosis and chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome and certain cancers.
·Exercise and physical activity also play roles in improving health status and fitness.
·Persons who reported increased levels of physical activity and fitness were found to reduce about 20-35 per cent relative risk of death.
·An increase in physical fitness will reduce the risk of premature death and a decrease in fitness will increase that risk.
·Persons who are physically active appear to have 30-40 per cent reduction in the relative risk of colon cancer, while physically active women have 20-30 per cent reduction in the relative risk of breast cancer compared with their inactive counterparts.
The benefits of physical activity extend far beyond reducing your risk of chronic diseases. Other benefits associated with physical activity include weight management, improvement in mood and mental health, increased life span, and the strengthening of your bones and muscles.
Physical activity plays a vital role in weight management. It is important for everyone to be more active in order to achieve or maintain a healthy weight.
"To reach and maintain a healthy body weight, the amount of calories burned during physical activity must be almost similar to the calories you consume from the food that you eat and drink. Physical activity is the ideal way to burn calories and maintain the energy balance in your body by burning the extra calories (energy) that you gain from food," advises Dr Zawiah Hashim, council member of the Malaysian Association for the Study of Obesity (MASO).
Give yourself a boost
Improve mood and mental health
According to Dr Tee, regular physical activity can stimulate the secretion of various chemicals in the brain that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. You may also feel better about yourself and your appearance when you exercise regularly. This will not only boost your self-confidence, but also improve your self-esteem.
Exercising regularly can also help reduce your risk of depression and allow you to sleep better. The Malaysian Dietary Guidelines (MDG) recommends that you do aerobic, or a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, five times a week for 30 minutes (150 minutes a week) so that you can gain these benefits.
Increase life expectancy
"Physical activity can help reduce your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and some cancers. For those of you who give the excuse of "no time to exercise", know that there are 1,440 minutes (24 hours) in a day; so if you spend just 30 minutes a day on exercise, this will only take up 2 per cent of your whole day," reminds Dr Zawiah.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you can increase your life span by doing at least 150 minutes (two hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.
Strengthen bones and muscles
"As you get older, it is important to protect your bones, joints and muscles. Research has shown that doing aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening physical activity on a moderately intense level can slow the loss of bone density that comes with age. Muscle-strengthening activities can help you increase or maintain your muscle mass and strength," Dr Zawiah notes.
In addition, the CDC also recommends muscle- and bone-strengthening activities to improve your ability to do daily activities and prevent falls. This will especially benefit the elderly.
Easy ways to keep fit
Just do it!
You can begin exercising every day in different ways, and keep physical inactivity and any sedentary habits, such as watching television, driving a car, or working at the computer for hours, to a minimum.
"Start off by doing moderate intensity physical activity such as brisk walking, cycling or dancing five or six days a week, preferably daily. Participate in activities that increase your flexibility, strength and muscles, as frequently as two to three times a week.
"As your fitness level improves, gradually increase the intensity and amount of time you spend on physical activities, such as running, cycling, and playing games like football, badminton or basketball, to 60 minutes or more," recommends Dr Mahenderan.
Dr Mahenderan points out that we are actually engaging in physical activity unknowingly, like walking around, gardening, doing household chores or walking up and down the stairs. He advises that we keep this up and gradually increase the intensity of these activities day by day.
"Don't be scared of exercising. Stop making excuses or saying that you have no time to be active. Make it a part of your daily life. I wish you all the best in health," he concludes.
Easy ways to keep fit and healthy
Here are some tips to help you and your family practise an active lifestyle.
·Choose to walk up the stairs, instead of taking the lift or escalator at the office, shopping malls, etc.
·Choose to walk to the nearby shop, surau or other places of worship, instead of driving.
·Do housework, such as sweeping and mopping the floor.
·Walk to your intended destination if possible.
·Indulge in activities like gardening, such as moving pots or trimming plants, watering your plants.
·Make one day of the week your personal sports day to carry out moderate physical activity like playing badminton, brisk walking, aerobic exercise, swimming and jogging.