Health Benefits of Physical Activity

It has been engrained in our society that we exercise in order to lose weight.

However, solely focussing on weight loss as the reason to exercise can be detrimental to our health.

Being physically active can benefit your health independent of weight loss.

Even if you do not lose weight, you can still benefit from being more physically active.

Findings from large health studies support the concept that reduced risk of mortality occurs among more active individuals, regardless of body weight.

If there was a pill to be healthier. Would you take it?

In the heavily documented Nurses’ Health Study, higher levels of physical activity in women were associated with reduced risk of death across all categories of body weight. Regardless of weight category, the relative risk for all-cause mortality was significantly higher in women whose physical activity level was < 1 h/wk.

A reduced risk of death, is only one of the many health benefits of being physically active.

Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of developing many chronic conditions (which currently burden 30% of the population), such as cardiovascular diseases, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers.

Physical activity also plays a role in the management of prevention of many chronic diseases such as COPD, heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, osteoarthritis, cancer, depression, and dementia.

If these benefits of physical activity were packaged in a pill, there is no doubt that this wonder drug would be heavily prescribed across the population and the life course.

If there was a pill to be healthier. Would you take it?

So what’s stopping you from getting your daily dose?

The Department of Health have established the National Guidelines on Physical Activity for Ireland, which are in line with international guidelines, which outline the optimal dose of physical activity.

Guidelines for Adults (aged 18–64)

  • At least 30 minutes a day, of moderate activity, on 5 days a week (or 150 minutes a week) of moderate intensity aerobic activity, in bouts of activity lasting at least 10 minutes.
  • Alternatively, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic intensity activity spread across the week.
  • In addition, adults should undertake physical activity to increase muscle strength and endurance on 2-3 days per week.
Moderate Intensity AerobicVigorous Intensity AerobicMuscle Strengthening
Increased breathing and heart rate, but still able to carry on a conversation. Warm or sweating slightly, comfortable pace.

·  Brisk walking

·  Cycling

·  Swimming

· Gardening

Breathing heavily, cannot keep a conversation going, faster heart rate and sweating, concentrating hard.

.  Jogging/running

·  Sports e.g. football, tennis etc.

·  Aerobic focused exercise       classes e.g. HIT

Should involve all the major muscle groups of the body.

· Weight training

· Working with  resistance bands

· Strength focused gym class e.g. circuits

· Carrying heavy loads e.g. groceries, heavy gardening

Now, take a moment to stop, and assess your current levels of physical activity.

If there was a pill to be healthier. Would you take it?

It may come as a surprise to many, that you are not meeting the current guidelines, despite going to the gym 3 times per week.

Revaluate how you can meet these guidelines by incorporating small, simple changes into your day.

Remember, you can achieve these guidelines in bouts of just 10 minutes.

  • How many of us are guilty of jumping in the car to spin down to the shop, only a 10 minute walk away? In 2018, it was reported that 250 million car journeys of less than 1km were being made in Greater Manchester. While the population of Manchester is much larger than any of our Irish cities, this alarming statistic is still relevant here in Ireland.
  • If you’re commuting, make it active, or at least partially active. Get off the bus one or two stops early, and clock up 10 minutes worth of brisk walking, contributing to your daily 30 minute target.

If there was a pill to be healthier. Would you take it?

In light of these incredible health benefits of being physically active, let’s reframe our approach to exercise, focusing on the health benefits that physical activity can provide to our bodies, as opposed to exercising solely for weight loss. Find what you enjoy doing and you will keep it up.