How much exercise do we need to stay healthy?

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Nicole McKeating-Jones
Added to All, That Counts, Walking on 17 Sep 2019

How much exercise do we need to stay healthy?

Guest blog from GreaterSport CEO Sara Tomkins

If exercise is a medicine – as it is often said, then what is the correct dose? If I hit 10,000 steps as my watch nudges me to do each day, is that enough?

If you like me, have a love-hate relationship with exercise and feel guilty for not doing enough then you might also want to know the answer to what is the correct dose, how many steps or minutes of movement should we take to make the most of this free miracle medicine? The answer may surprise you…

If you have a dog you will notice all animals’ naturally rest to conserve energy and our ape ancestors would have done the same in-between hunter gathering. The more active you were 2.5 million years ago, the more food you had and the more offspring who inherited a desire to move. Eventually, the human brain evolved to reward hard work, release endorphins - our natural feel-good drugs in response to exercise. And the natural miracle drug or movement ‘high’ was born alongside our desire to rest. These two competing voices were balanced back then by lifestyles that demanded hard work alongside rest.

In the blink of an evolutionary eye, our environment has changed, yet the constant brain battle still exists today. The devil saying ‘rest’ and the angel encouraging us to ‘move’. Our world doesn’t help our internal battle as our external world has designed movement out of our lives. We no longer hunt for food and chop down wood for warmth… our food is delivered to our door, we turn the thermostat up and we don’t get off the sofa to change TV channels. Everything is driven by convenience and more and more our lives are controlled by the touch of a button.

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We sit, sit and sit more and more in vehicles, at desks, in meetings, at home and of course we still need to rest but it is so easy to overindulge, move less and as a result, we are impacting our health. Increases in heart disease, 1 in 4 of us will have diabetes in our lifetime, growing obesity, cancer and mental health conditions are more common today than ever before. Some of us seek large doses to feed the craving yet most of us avoid exercise, we dread moving, we put it off as our inner ape or devil encourages to rest and relax and we place barriers in our way…

“I have no time” “It's raining” “I am too hungry” “It will hurt” “It’s hard work”

Yet when we move we fill instantly better for it, we glow and enthuse about moving as those endorphins make us feel happier, less stressed, we sleep better, we think clearer and we are more efficient/productive.

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The health benefits of moving are well documented and many of us ‘want’ to be more active as we know we feel better…but how much is enough?

In order to answer this question, we need to explore the science a bit…

  • Exercise keeps our muscles and hearts strong and helps our blood vessels work, overall improving our aerobic fitness. When we raise our heart rates, the blood pumps and produces nitric oxide which repairs blood vessels keeping them elastic. As I am acutely aware, as we age our strength and aerobic fitness alongside our balance are particularly important.
  • Moving also reduces inflammation and blunts our physiological responses to stress. This has big impacts on our health and how we feel. Inflammation and stress are killers increasing the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes when we don’t release the energy from our cells. Latest research also shows moving helps keep our brains fit – generating new brain cells and repairing old ones hence why coordinate movement like cycling, running and walking is supporting our brains and improving our balance which wards of dementia and other cognitive decline.

So how much do we need to reap the crucial health benefits?

A study of Glaswegian post workers who do 15,000 steps a day (around two hours) have very healthy hearts and a long-term US study showed the more active adults are the lower their mortality rates were, in fact, active people’s mortality rates were 80% lower than couch potatoes. An Australian study showed that you had to move an hour a day to counteract the negative health impacts of sitting all day at work.

An hour, two hours, 10,000 or 15,000 steps what should we do?

The Chief Medical Officers guidelines promote a target for adults of 150 minutes or moderate to vigorous exercise a week. Not exactly an easy target to calculate.

So if two hours or thousands of steps all feels a bit daunting then why not try Greater Manchester’s new miracle dose of 30mins of movement a day. It’s a simple goal that adds up all those opportunities when you can choose to fit movement back into your day that all count and add up so you can aim to exceed the guidelines, even allowing some wriggle room.

If 30 minutes still feels ambitious then take heart, as a little medicine is better than none. Studies constantly show modest amounts of movement offer huge benefits compared to none. And those who currently are sitting quite a bit can significantly improve their health with a 30minute daily dose adding happier and healthier years to their lives.

So all in all, moving is a powerful medicine and we shouldn’t be afraid to self-prescribe a liberally and healthy dose. Why not try to reach 30mins a day? Take the stairs not the lift, carry that shopping a little further, a 10 minute kick about with the kids and a daily walk at lunchtime can all add up. Every bit of movement counts.

The only dangerous dose is none.

To help find your way to move more, that makes you feel happy, and tickles your brain cells so that you keep coming back for more visit www.thatcounts.co.uk.