By Dr JULIET MCGRATTAN
We all know that doing exercise is good for us. Despite this, the Health Survey for England in 2016 tells us that 34% of men and 42% of women aren’t doing enough activity for good health. Why is it that exercise is so often seen as a chore and something that ends up on the bottom of our to do list?
Here are four great reasons to be active:
1. Better health. This might sound obvious but the power that exercise has to improve health is often hugely underestimated. Did you know that if you are regularly active throughout your life, you can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 35 to 40%, your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 20 to 30% and your risk of bowel cancer by as much as 50%? This means that we have the power to shape our own future health. When we’re young we tend not to think about these things but as we age, health issues do become more of a concern and it’s never too late to start becoming active and reaping some of these benefits.
2. Feel good factor. If you speak to someone who was previously inactive and became active, then you’ll find that one of the reasons they would never go back to a more sedentary lifestyle is simply because they feel so much better. You might think that you would feel more tired but your energy levels actually increase when you lead an active life. You sleep better, your concentration improves and you feel calmer. Stress and low mood are a common problem today and we know that exercise is a powerful tool for maintaining and improving mental health. You can expect a 20 to 30% reduction in your risk of depression if you keep active. Exercise helps both our physical and mental health.
3. Opens your world. Exercise can open up a whole new range of experiences and opportunities. From meeting new people and making new friends to exploring new areas and perhaps even travelling far and wide. You just never know where it will take you. Discovering a new path in your neighbourhood or feeling more a part of your local community can change how you feel about where you live. Learning what your body is capable of can change how you feel about yourself. Exercise can improve your self-esteem and self-confidence which then has a knock on effect to other areas of your life such as making you feel more empowered to take on challenges at work or within your family.
4. It’s fun. You might have grown up associating exercise with competitive sport at school and if you didn’t enjoy it then it can put you off for life. But there’s way more to exercise than feeling exhausted on a cross country run! Find something you like. If you want a new habit for life then it has to be enjoyable. Think back to when you were younger, what did you used to love doing? Chances are that if you can find a way to do it now, then you’ll love it all over again. Was it dance? Find an adult dance class or just crank up the stereo and dance around the kitchen. Was it football? There might be a local team, a walking football league or the opportunity to get active by coaching youngsters. Try new things and feel the boost that learning a new skill gives you. Above all, have fun with exercise.
These are four great reasons to be active and have you noticed they don’t include losing weight? We now understand that whilst some of the benefits of exercise are about any weight loss that it may cause in those who are overweight, lots of the benefits are entirely separate to what the scales tell you. You might not see your weight fall as you become more active but this doesn’t matter; it doesn’t mean it isn’t making you healthier. Exercise works by making you healthier from the inside out. It helps to reduce your visceral fat, this is the harmful fat around your internal organs. Visceral fat causes a slow inflammation in the body which we now know is one of the causes of the major diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cancer and depression. Exercise will work on this fat before it works on our spare tyres round our middle!
The other thing to bear in mind is that although each week we are aiming for 150 minutes of exercise that makes us feel out of breath, what we do the rest of the time is important too. Reducing how long we spend sitting is hugely important. We were designed to move and by breaking up our sitting time and moving around for a couple of minutes every half an hour, we can help to prevent the cells of our body being damaged by unspent energy.
So, keep moving, improve your health, feel better, open your world and above all, have FUN!
Dr Juliet McGrattan is a GP , mother and author of Sorted: The Active Woman’s Guide to Health. She works as a Clinical Champion for Physical Activity with PHE in the north-west of England and with 261 Fearless, a global women’s running network.
Find out more about Juliet and follow her blog here.