Health & Wellness Wellness Wednesday

Physical Activity is the Better Way to Health

May 21, 2019
Physcial Activity the Better Way to Health

It’s fun, free and widely available. It’s also a “wonder medicine”, according to Adjunct Professor Trevor Shilton, the director of active living at the Heart Foundation.

What is it?

It’s physical activity.

And it’s a sure-fire way to build your heart health, and improve your overall health and wellbeing at the same time.

However, with 56% of adults (9.5 million) in Australia either inactive or only doing low levels of physical activity, we are in the midst of an “inactivity crisis”, says Prof Shilton.

“Yet, there is so much to gain from being physically active,” he says. “Put simply, physical activity has a spectacular impact on health.”

Heart disease and reducing your risk

A heart attack, the most common form of heart disease, occurs due to the narrowing or blocking of blood vessels in the heart muscle.

Heart disease is Australia’s biggest killer. In 2017, it claimed the lives of 18,590 Australians.
There is often a perception that heart disease is a ‘man’s disease’.

However, women in Australia are almost three times more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer.

Research shows that physical inactivity puts people at a higher risk of getting heart disease. However, physical activity strengthens the heart muscle, which improves its ability to pump blood to the lungs and throughout the body.

The broader benefits of physical activity

Prof Shilton says physical activity

“is one of the best ways to ward off the risk factors associated with heart disease”, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excess weight, diabetes or a family history of heart disease.

Being active for 30 minutes or more each day cuts a person’s risk of heart disease by 35%.

“And, if the body is protected from heart disease, it will also be less susceptible to other health conditions,” he says.

Prof Shilton says physical activity also “reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes by 30%, cuts the risk of breast and colon cancer by 20%, reduces blood pressure, improves mental health, reduces cognitive decline, and improves balance – thereby reducing the risk of falls.”

“Heart health is at the heart of good health,” he says.

Moving more and sitting less also helps to prevent unhealthy weight gain, builds strong muscles and bones, eases tension and stress, and creates opportunities for socialising and meeting new people.

What exactly is physical activity?

Physical activity is any activity that gets your body moving, makes your breathing become quicker and your heart beat faster. You can be physically active in many different ways, at any time of day.

But the three key principles are: move more, sit less, and do muscle-strengthening activities.

How to maintain an exercise/physical activity plan

Physical activity does not have to be organised or competitive to be beneficial, says Prof Shilton. Social activities with family and friends, or being active by yourself can be lots of fun and have many benefits. In addition, he says that the types of activities you enjoy may change throughout life, and that’s OK. As long as it’s enjoyable, you’re more likely to do it – and that’s what matters.

“Do what you enjoy,” says Prof Shilton. “Scheduling in an activity with a family member or friend will also make you more likely to do it.”

Setting a goal can also be helpful, Prof Shilton says.

“The wide availability of wearable devices and health apps means that we can more easily identify and monitor our activity,” he says. “It can be quite rewarding when the health app notifies you that you have reached 10,000 steps.”

Walking, swimming, and group exercise are the most common forms of physical activity undertaken by women. Other popular activities include walking the dog, dancing, swimming, riding a bike and going for a jog. Vigorous household chores, such as cleaning windows or raking leaves, count as physical activity too.

As far as strengthening activities, it does not have to be lifting weights in the gym. “Doing squats, push-ups, even digging in the garden, strengthens muscles and bones,” says Prof Shilton.
Reaching the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity per day can be achieved with simple tweaks to the daily routine; for example, walking to and from public transport or riding a bike to work or other destinations.

“Lack of time is the most common reason identified by women as what prevents them from being physically active, so using the commute can help to overcome time constraints during the week,” says Prof Shilton.

Naturally good for you

Our bodies are designed to move. Aside from the clear health benefits, being active makes you feel good, helps you to relax, and improves self-esteem and confidence.

Prof Shilton says that key findings from research on walking groups are that while people may initially join a walking group for a health reason, the reason they stay in the group is because they make friends.

When it comes to loneliness, getting active or being active is a great solution.

“There is scarcely anything else that you could do every day to get the number of benefits that being active [brings],” says Prof Shilton.

“The cross-cutting benefits of physical activity make it nothing short of a wonder medicine.”

Read more information on physical activity and better heart health at jeanhailes.org.au.

Published with the permission of Jean Hailes for Women’s Health

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17 Comments

  • Reply Candi Randolph May 21, 2019 at 20:38

    Great reminders, Sue, of what we all need to be doing every day. I agree that if we involve ourselves in activities that we enjoy, we’re more likely to keep them as part of our routine. Good examples, too, of the kinds of regular activity we engage in that is helping us stay strong without actually picking up a weight. Sharing with my Facebook readers. xo

    • Reply Sue Loncaric May 22, 2019 at 12:58

      I love running Candi and never thought I would as I was never good at athletics as a child. I love to dance and just keep active really. The key is to find what you enjoy and then it doesn’t become a chore. Thank you for sharing on Facebook xx

  • Reply Erica/Erika May 21, 2019 at 23:41

    Hi Sue, Great information reinforcing the effects of physical activity on heart disease and cancer. As I get older, I am thinking more about functional fitness and maintaining quality of life. I notice that many people on your site share to social media sites. I have personal, family social media sites where we share primarily family photos etc.. Should I be setting up a separate social media site for sharing Health/fitness information with some of my like-minded friends. Your posts contain a lot of well-researched information and many gems. Always great to share. What do other people do? Erica

    • Reply Sue Loncaric May 22, 2019 at 13:00

      Hi Erica, usually a separate social media site linked to your website is a good way to get the message further than family or friends. I’ve recently discovered Instagram and I reach so many more people. You could just set up your Instagram account as a personal one and then just post images. It is the hashtags that people look for. Let me know if you need some help. 🙂

      • Reply Erica/Erika May 28, 2019 at 01:30

        Thank you Sue, I appreciate your advice!🙂

  • Reply Donna Connolly May 22, 2019 at 00:22

    Thank you for these great reminders, Sue. One conundrum with physical activity as we age is that as we get ill or injured it is very easy to let physical activity go, and very easy to downward spiral from there. I see this happening with relatives and friends who were once very active. Their bodies/minds are now telling them to rest, and then they quickly lose the energy, stamina, physical activities that they once had. I am hoping to fight this every step of the way!

    • Reply Sue Loncaric May 22, 2019 at 13:01

      Hi Donna, I hear you and it actually frustrates me. If people just realised that they can recover and improve their physical fitness without further injury they would be much healthier and happier. Like you I will be fighting every step of the way and that is why I continue to live a healthy lifestyle with both activity and with what I eat. Have a beautiful week. xx

  • Reply The Widow Badass May 22, 2019 at 04:21

    Excellent article, Sue!
    I agree – exercise is the single most effective “pill” we can take to get/stay healthy. Plus all the side effects are wonderful.
    My mom refused to stop being active, even when diagnosed first with degenerative spinal disease and then with incurable cancer. She lived for 15 years after her diagnosis and most of those years were pretty good in quality of life because she continued walking, swimming and bike riding whenever she achieved a remission and could stop treatment. She was also supposed to live out her life in a wheelchair starting in her 50s because of her bad back but she became even more active instead, and got her lifeguard certification at 54. She was a great role model and only in that wheelchair in the last few weeks of her life, at age 79.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric May 22, 2019 at 13:03

      What a wonderful role model you had Deb and I hope I’m like you Mum. We just have to keep going because the alternative isn’t great. I always feel so much better after even a walk or some yoga or just stretching. It doesn’t take much to be active and I do believe it is healing in so many ways. xx

  • Reply suzanne May 22, 2019 at 08:50

    Hi Sue, you have motivated me to set some summer fitness goals. I will keep you posted on my progress.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric May 22, 2019 at 13:06

      Fabulous Suzanne and let me know if I can help you in any way. Looking forward to seeing your progress xx

  • Reply Terri Webster Schrandt May 22, 2019 at 09:37

    What a great post to read as I continue to write my book on the subject, Sue! I loved your statistics and I feel they mirror the same for US women! You will read in a later post that I’m scheduled for foot surgery two weeks from today, so you know how that will impact my fit lifestyle! I hope to share some good ideas for enduring surgery and regaining lost physical activity! Thanks for the impressive article!

    • Reply Sue Loncaric May 22, 2019 at 13:09

      Oh good luck with the surgery and I can imagine you will be a little frustrated at not being as mobile as you would like. I’m so looking forward to reading your book and when you publish let’s do an interview to promote it. xx

  • Reply Nancy W Dobbins May 22, 2019 at 20:53

    Hi Sue,
    I love my fitness watch (a knock-off Fitbit) as it challenges me to reach those stepping milestones.
    It’s all part of wellness, mind-body-spirit. Dan and I frequently remind each other that the surest way to “lose it” is not to “use it”…our mantra is DON’T STOP. If you spend your third age in a chair watching tv in time you won’t be able to get out of it.

  • Reply Miriam May 23, 2019 at 18:01

    Great reminders and advice Sue and so important particularly as we’re getting older. I love my daily long walks and doing the housework with the music cranked up and incorporating a bit of dance (which I also love) always gets the heart pumping faster. 😊 Fabulous post. xx

    • Reply Sue Loncaric May 26, 2019 at 08:23

      Hi Miriam, it doesn’t matter what we do as long as we are moving and I love your idea of doing the housework with the music cranked up. A good combo of getting the chores done and keeping fit! Have a beautiful day xx

  • Reply Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au May 27, 2019 at 11:36

    I have to admit to cheating on my Fitbit steps Sue – I set mine for 8,000 steps a day so I get the fireworks and buzz most days. I was finding that I don’t make the magic 10,000 as often as I liked and missed getting a bit of a cheer for almost making it. On my good days I can get to 12,000 so I figure that offsets the lower days a little. You’re so right about the importance of getting physical (to quote Olivia N-J) especially in Midlife when our metabolisms aren’t as generous as they used to be!

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