Physical fitness is an independent predictor of health. This means that people with higher levels of fitness have a decreased risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. Not only this, but staying active has been associated with optimum physical and cognitive functioning allowing people to live long and vibrant lives. Yet with advances in modern technology, sedentary behaviour has become more and more consistent. People now spend hours on end sitting while watching TV, working at a desk, playing video games, travelling in a car etc.
What are the physical activity recommendations for health?
Aerobic exercise: The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend that adults accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity 5 days a week or 25 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise 3 times a week for optimal health. It is important to note that these recommendations are not for weight loss, they are simply to reduce your risk of developing the numerous chronic conditions associated with poor fitness levels such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Activities may include walking, running, cycling, dancing, swimming, hiking or any activity that uses most of the major muscle groups in the body and can be performed for at least 10 minutes at a time.
Resistance training: In addition to the aerobic exercise mentioned above, strength training should be performed twice a week to maintain good muscle health and function. The ACSM specifically recommend that you do some resistance training twice per week. Each session should consist of 8-10 exercises that incorporate all the major muscle groups of the body. You should perform 8-12 repetitions of each exercise (1 set) and perform a total of 2-3 sets.
This recommendation may sound a little complicated so simply this would translate into 30 minutes of resistance training twice per week. The types of resistance training we are referring to include traditional weight training in the GYM, body weight training e.g. squats, lunges and press ups, TRX suspension training, water based weight training e.g. aqua aerobics. Try a number of different modes of training to see which you like best.
Flexibility (stretching): It is important to also maintain flexibility within the joints and muscles as tightness can contribute to back pain or difficulty performing simple tasks such as reaching into a press to grab a cup. The ACSM suggest stretching at least 2 or 3 times per week to increase joint range and prevent loss of motion. Each stretch should be held for 10-30 seconds to the point of tightness or slight discomfort and repeated 2-4 times. Types of stretching can include Static, dynamic, ballistic and PNF, all of which are effective. The muscles that are most often tight are the hamstrings, hip flexors, calves and chest muscles, so they should gain priority when stretching. Flexibility exercise is most effective when the muscle is warm, so try light aerobic activity before stretching.
Structured exercise training vs reducing your sedentary time
The physical activity recommendations mentioned above are effective in improving your health. However, it can be difficult to introduce all of these structed sessions into your busy schedule. Also, we are observing in clinic that in some cases this amount of structured physical activity is not sufficient to compensate for how sedentary we have become in the rest of the day. In some cases, reducing your sedentary time throughout the day may be more beneficial to your health than simply meeting the recommendations. For best results, reducing your sedentary time (moving throughout the day) while also meeting the physical activity recommendations requirements will give optimal results. Where should you start?
- Identify the amount of time you spend being sedentary each day: Our True Transformation team highly recommend that you first quantify the amount of time you spend sedentary each day for a 7-day period. To do this you simply create a ‘Sedentary Time Journal’ where you write down the amount of time you spend sitting or lying each day. This will include activities such as sleeping, eating, working at a desk, driving, watching TV.
- Identify opportunities in your day to reduce sedentary time: There will be some sedentary time in the day that you cannot change e.g. driving and sitting while eating. However, there are always opportunities to reduce sedentary time if you look for them. Some very helpful tips have been identified below. We would also recommend that you look at your ‘screen time’ per day. How much time do you spend watching TV or flicking through social media? If you turn off these devices for one day you would be surprised how much more time you will have in your day!!
- Count your steps: Do you know how many steps you take in one day? There are lots of free step counting apps available on smart phones today, so it would be a good idea to download one and calculate how many steps you take per day. If you take less than 5,000 steps in your day then you are classified as being very sedentary.
The ACSM have come up with the GET ACTIVE ACTION PLANS which include some simple tips to reduce sedentary behaviour in all aspects of life.
While at work:
- Go for a short brisk walk every time you take a tea/coffee break. Every minute counts!
- Go for a walk with colleagues on lunch break.
- Park further away from the office to increase your step count or walk/cycle to work if possible.
- Whenever you have a drink of water, stand up and take a few steps
- Stand up as opposed to sitting down whenever possible
- Walk while having a conversation on your mobile phone.
- Plan to go for a walk on the way home from work.
- Instead of emailing or calling co-workers, walk to their desk.
- Walk briskly when headed to meetings.
- Always take the stairs instead of the lift.
- Take the long route to the bathroom.
For daily life:
- Take a family walk each day. This will encourage good health behaviour for your children also.
- Start tracking your steps and try to progress up to 10,000 steps or more a day.
- Take the dog for a walk daily.
- Rather than going for drives or road trips, go for nature walks instead.
- When watching TV, stand up and get active while the advertisements are playing or contact True Fitness for one of our home-based circuits that you can do while watching TV!
- Take the stairs when possible.
- When running errands walk at a fast pace.
- While watching sporting events pace up and down the side-lines.
- Walk up and down every aisle at the supermarket several times when buying groceries
- Take up a new active hobby with friends, such as a fitness class or swimming.
- After every 15 minutes of sitting stand up and move a little.
- Walk whenever you are talking on a phone.
- Set aside structured active play time with your kids 15-30 minutes a day. They will love it!
- Try playing music around the house and dancing.
American College of Sports Medicine, 2011. Reducing sedentary behaviors: sitting less and moving more. Indianapolis, IN: ACSM. Available from: https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/reducing-sedentary-behaviors-sitting-less-and-moving-more.pdf