Sedentary jobs and long commutes to work can mean we do a lot of enforced sitting. By the time you slip out of your shoes tonight, how much physical activity will you have done today? If the answer’s ‘not much’ you’re not alone. According to the National Health Survey 2007-08, 72 per cent of Australians aged 15 years and over have low exercise levels.
Physical inactivity ranks second only to smoking in importance and impact as a preventable risk factor for disease which contributes to Australia’s healthcare problems. Research has shown that it doubles the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes and may increase the risk of bowel and breast cancer and depression.
The good news is an exercise habit is a strong defence against these and many other health problems.
You gain weight when you eat more kilojoules than you burn up. Regular physical activity is effective for both weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight.
Besides helping to control weight, regular exercise helps prevent heart disease by:
The Heart Foundation of Australia recommends at least 30 minutes a day of moderate activity, which can be as simple as brisk walking. You can even accumulate your 30 minutes in 10-minute bursts if it is more convenient for you. This amount of exercise can help protect your heart from further damage, whether you are trying to prevent the onset of any heart disease or even if you already have a heart condition.
Almost 25 percent of Australians currently over 25 either already have or are at risk of developing diabetes. Being inactive increases that risk, but regular physical activity can help prevent diabetes by:
People who already have diabetes have a higher risk of heart disease. Regular exercise has many benefits, including improved blood sugar control and reduced risk of heart disease.
Many people aren’t aware that regular exercise can help protect against some cancers, particularly bowel cancer:
Regular physical activity not only helps prevent complications of depression and anxiety, it may also help treat symptoms of mild-to-moderate depression. It’s believed to achieve this by boosting production of mood-lifting chemicals in the brain, including serotonin and endorphins, as well as improving sleep, increasing energy and providing a distraction from anxiety. Research by the Black Dog Institute suggests:
Although injury to joints and overuse of joints increases the chance of developing osteoarthritis in middle age, inactivity and being overweight are other factors. Extra kilos increase the pressure on joints and cause the cartilage (the ‘cushioning’ substance between bones in a joint) to wear down faster. Physical activity:
Regular exercise helps preserve strong bones and protects against the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis. This affects men as well as women. The best bone-strengthening exercises include:
If you already have osteoporosis, exercise is still important but there may be some activities you need to avoid. Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program to make sure which types of exercise are appropriate for you.
Although we can’t prevent risk factors for dementia such as ageing or an inherited risk of the disease, there’s evidence that regular physical activity, especially aerobic activity and resistance training, may help prevent dementia by:
Heart Foundation of Australia http://www.heartfoundation.org.au
Better Health Channel: Depression and exercise http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Depression_and_exercise
Alzheimer’s Australia. “Keep on moving” – physical exercise and dementia. [online] Hawker, ACT: Alzheimer’s Australia. Jun 2008 [accessed 11 Aug 2010] Available from:http://www.alzheimers.org.au/
Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Physical activity guidelines. [online] Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia. c2007. [last updated 23 Mar 2009, accessed 11 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines
Black Dog Institute. Exercise and depression. [online] Randwick, NSW: Black Dog Institute. c2009 [accessed 11 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/
Cancer Council Australia. Move your body. [online] Surry Hills, NSW [updated 31 Aug 2009, accessed 11 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.cancer.org.au/Healthprofessionals/patientfactsheets/Lifestyle/Move_your_body.htm
National Heart Foundation of Australia. Blueprint for an active Australia. [online] Australia: National Heart Foundation of Australia. 2009 [accessed 11 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/Professional_Information/Lifestyle_Risk/Physical_Activity/Pages/default.aspx
Minne HW. Invest in your bones - make it or break it. [online] Nyon, Switzerland: International Osteoporosis Foundation. 2005. [accessed 11 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.osteoporosis.org.au/
Procietto J Baur LA. Management of Obesity. Medical Journal of Australia. 2004; 180(9): 474–480.
Wise FM. Coronary heart disease - the benefits of exercise. Australian Family Physician. 2010; 39(3): 129–133
This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.
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Last published 31 October 2010