The human body was designed to move. It’s no coincidence that the rate of heart disease and stroke have increased significantly as we’ve gradually become less active with the introduction of more and more labour-saving devices – including our cars – and a general trend toward desk jobs (and TV streaming services!) leading to prolonged periods of sitting. In fact, prolonged sitting has been shown in some studies to be just as damaging to our health as smoking 20 cigarettes a day.

More than half of Australian adults and two thirds of Australian children don’t get the recommended amount of daily physical activity. The good news is that increasing your levels of physical activity is not hard and doesn’t necessarily involve joining a gym or signing up for expensive exercise programs. The even better news is that just 30 minutes a day of physical activity can slash the risk of heart disease by a third and has many other health benefits.

How much is enough?
This depends a bit on your age: kids need at least 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous exercise with adults up to the age of 65 needing around 45 minutes a day on most days. Over the age of 65, 30 minutes a day is a good rule of thumb. This can be broken up into 10-minute intervals throughout the day. All ages benefit from muscle-strengthening activities a couple of times a week and breaking up prolonged periods of sitting.

What are the best types of physical activity for heart health?
The best types of physical activity are the ones you enjoy and are therefore going to be more likely to actually do most days. Anything which gets your heart beating a little faster than usual (without necessarily making you breathless) can help strengthen the heart muscle, improve blood flow to the brain and reduce risk factors by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. 

Walking, swimming, yoga, cycling, dancing, running, even gardening and housework – all are great for your heart. A bit of variety is a good idea not only to stop you from getting bored but to use more muscle groups and improve strength and balance. Walking is one of the simplest as it doesn’t require special skills or equipment: just a decent pair of shoes, a hat and some sunscreen! Exercising outdoors has extra benefits for your mental health and even bone health as you soak up some Vitamin D.

How to get started
If you are new to exercise or have had a lengthy break from it due to illness, it’s important to start small and set yourself small, achievable goals. A short stroll around the block 3 times this week might be a simple way to get started. 

The Heart Foundation has a free 6 week walking program which is a great way to get going or back into it: just fill in a few details such as your current activity levels and age and you will be emailed an individually tailored and graded personal walking plan, the link is below. The plan includes some gentle stretches and muscle strengthening activities a couple of times a week. Ideal for beginners or even seasoned walkers looking to step things up a notch.

Perhaps you’ve always wanted to try running? The Couch to 5K is another free program that can get you started. There is also an excellent accompanying Strength and Flex program involving twice weekly muscle strengthening exercises that can be done alongside the Couch to 5K (or on its own) that doesn’t require any special equipment.

Even just aiming to increase your daily activities a little will make a difference – taking the stairs instead of the lift or getting off the bus one stop early to walk the extra distance.

If you are already a regular exerciser, now is a good time to check you’ve got a good mix of aerobic activity on most days with at least 2 resistance sessions a week. 

Other benefits of physical activity and exercise
Physical activity and exercise don’t just slash the risk of heart disease and stroke. Just 30 minutes on most days also reduces the risk of:

  • type 2 diabetes
  • many types of cancer such as breast and bowel
  • obesity and overweight
  • osteoporosis
  • dementia
  • falls
  • mental illness such as depression and anxiety
  • loneliness and social isolation

If you’re not sure what level or type of physical activity is right for you, and especially if you have any pre-existing conditions and are just getting started, come and see us for a check-up before you get started.

Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

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