Research has shown that exercise can be as effective as taking medication – particularly for type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Physical activity can also reduce your risk of many other diseases, including prostate and breast cancers, dementia and brain strokes. Reviewing the clinical data shows that it is not absolutely critical to work up a sweat, and that performing housework, gardening, walking and cycling more briskly, will help achieve the minimum 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, that is recommended by the Department of Health. Muscle strength can be improved through everyday tasks, such as carrying shopping or similar, on at least two days a week. However sitting idle can significantly reduce the benefits of any exercise, so you should aim to stand up for 10 minutes of each hour you’re sitting down. For example, office workers could burn an extra 30,000 calories a year by spending 3 hours a day standing up. Regardless of your age or fitness level, the following activities can help you get in shape and lower your risk for disease:
Swimming could be the perfect workout, because the buoyancy of the water supports your body, and takes the strain off painful joints and allows you to move them more fluidly. Swimming is also good for individuals with arthritis because it is less weight-bearing. In addition, swimming can improve your mental state and put you in a better mood. Water aerobics is a further option and could help to burn calories and tone you up.
Tai chi, called ‘meditation in motion’ is a Chinese martial art that incorporates movement and relaxation, which is good for both body and mind. Tai chi is made up of a series of graceful movements, one transitioning smoothly into the next. Classes are offered at various levels, making tai chi accessible, and valuable, for people of all ages and fitness levels, and is particularly good for older people. Balance is an important component of fitness, and balance is something we lose as we get older.
Strength training is not just a macho, ‘six-pack’ building activity, because lifting light weights may not bulk up your muscles, but it will keep them strong. Not using muscles will lead to them losing their strength over time and, muscle also helps burn calories. In fact, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, making it easier to maintain weight. Additionally, it is believed that strength training might also help preserve your memory.
Walking is simple, yet powerful. A regular brisk walk can help you stay trim, improve cholesterol levels, strengthen bones, keep blood pressure in check, lift your mood, and lower your risk for a number of diseases ( e.g. diabetes and heart disease). Studies have shown that walking and other physical activities can also improve memory and help resistance to age-related memory loss. It is advisable to start with walking for about 10-15 minutes at a time, and then. over time, to start to walk farther and faster until the walks last for 30 to 60 minutes on most days of the week.
Pilates exercises, on the mat or with advanced machines, will help you with chronic joint and back pain and also strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder. Strong pelvic floor muscles can go a long way toward preventing incontinence. Many women practice Pilates, but these exercises can benefit men too.
Gardening, cleaning your house, cycling to work, using the stairs and walking your dog all count as physical activity. So does dancing and playing with children. The Department of Health recommends that as long as you’re moving for at least 150 minutes a week, and you include two days of strength activities a week, such as carrying your shopping, you will be considered as ‘active’. Although, medical intervention is sometimes necessary, there is a growing evidence that exercise can make you healthier and happier.