You probably know that being physically active is good for us. Not only does it decrease your risk of heart attacks and strokes and help to keep your weight under control, but it also makes your muscles and bones stronger and fitter. The latter allows you to be able to do more things and do them safely and enjoyably.
Research has also shown that physical activity is crucial for stress management and mental health. One study showed that a combination of aerobic activity and meditation was as effective in treating depression as commonly prescribed medications. (1)
There are different types of physical activity. The most widely known is an aerobic activity, when large muscles of your body are contracting in a rhythmic manner, such as walking, biking, running, skiing etc. It can be light, moderate or vigorous intensity. How do you know what intensity? The easiest way to estimate is a talk test. If you are able to comfortably talk and sing during the activity it is light intensity. If you can talk, but cannot sing, it is moderate intensity. And if you can’t talk it is vigorous.
Another type of physical activity is resistance or strength training. It is when you contract your muscles against external resistance. The latter can be weights, elastic bands or simply your body weight. Squats, curls and push-ups are just a few examples of resistance exercises. Resistance training helps make your muscles and bones stronger and improve your metabolism so that you burn more calories. It also helps patients with diabetes to keep blood sugar under control.
I also like balance and flexibility exercises. These include training your core muscles and various stretches. These types of exercises improve your stability and posture and increase range of motion in your joints therefore decreasing your risk of falls and injuries. Please be sure that you do flexibility exercises when your muscles are warm, otherwise it can lead to injuries.
The US Preventive Task Force recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. But any amount of activity is better than none, and you don’t need to do it all at once. You can spread it throughout the day; for example go for a walk in the morning, then do some housework in the afternoon and do a few stretches in the evening.
Physical activity does not necessarily mean structured exercise. You don’t have to buy a fancy gym membership or expensive equipment. Just go for a walk. Getting outside is good for us because our brain is programmed to calm down in nature, by seeing greenery or water. If you have an option to walk on a hilly terrain do that because this will give you the combination of aerobic activity and resistance training. Or do some gardening. Gardening often combines aerobic activity, flexibility, balance and resistance training.
Doing chores also counts. For example, next time instead of taking your car to the carwash consider doing it yourself if you can. In addition to getting some physical activity you will also save some money and benefit the environment since you will probably use less water than a typical car wash does. Cleaning your house, doing laundry, cooking, shopping, ironing, doing yardwork and gardening are great ways to get moving.
(1) B L Alderman, R L Olson, C J Brush, T J Shors. MAP training:combining meditation and aerobic exercise reduces depression and rumination while enhancing synchronized brain activity. Translational Psychiatry, 2016; 6(2):e726