19 May 2016
What if there was a single trick that would help you stay healthy, look better, live longer and be happier? What if that trick didn’t have to be expensive or difficult to do? If that sounds amazing to you, then you’re in luck – the trick is regular physical activity. We all know that physical activity is good for your health, but how exactly does it benefit you?
Benefits of Physical Activity
One of the top health benefits of physical activity is weight management. Any exercise you do burns calories; the more intense the exercise, the more calories you burn. Regular exercise helps you to maintain a healthy weight, which in turn reduces your risk of many serious illnesses. Controlling your weight can also help you feel good about your body, improving your confidence and self-esteem.
Maintaining the minimum recommended physical activity levels will help keep you healthy in the long-term. Physical activity boosts your good cholesterol levels and increases oxygen and blood flow. This improves your endurance and energy, while reducing the risk of diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease and stroke. Physical activities, especially outdoor activities, also help to boost your immune system, preventing minor health problems like the common cold and the flu.
Physical activity isn’t only good for your body; it’s also good for your mind. Regular exercise has been shown to help prevent and treat depression and anxiety. Even if you don’t suffer from any mental health illnesses, physical activity can boost your mood and improve your ability to deal with stress. When you exercise, you release hormones like endorphins and adrenaline that clear your head, increase positivity and fight stress. Physical activity also promotes better sleep, which is essential to good mental health.
As you get older, the health benefits of physical activity only increase. Regular physical activity allows you to stay active as you age, meaning more independence and freedom to keep up with your usual activities. Physical activity improves balance, strengthens muscles and protects joints, which can slow the loss of bone density, manage arthritis pain, maintain muscle mass, and prevent against falls and hip fractures. Physical activity also extends your life; even small amounts of regular exercise significantly reduce your risk of dying early.
Physical Activity Recommendations and Guidelines
So, how much physical activity do adults need? There are two different types of recommended physical activity:
1. Aerobic activity – also known as ‘cardio’, this is activity that involves moving your body’s large muscles, breathing faster and increasing your heart rate. Activities like brisk walking, running, swimming, dancing and cycling are aerobic activities.
2. Strength training – this is exercise that uses resistance to build the strength, size and endurance of your major muscles, including your abdomen, back, arms, legs and hips. Activities like yoga, weightlifting, heavy gardening, press ups, abdominal crunches and leg squats are strength training activities.
Some especially strenuous activities, like football, netball and circuit training, count as both aerobic activity and strength training.
The NHS has the following physical activity recommendations for adults:
1. either 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise or some combination of the two, every week
2. strength training on 2 or more days every week
There are lots of ways to meet these physical activity guidelines. Integrating physical activity into your daily life is one of the easiest ways. Be more active every day – take the stairs instead of the lift, walk instead of getting the bus, get up regularly from your desk at work. You can also split up the aerobic activity as much as you want – 10 minute bursts a few times a day or longer sessions a few times a week.
Volunteering with the Army Cadet Force is another great way to add physical activity to your life. We have over 9,000 adult volunteers helping us run the programmes we offer our cadets. Our volunteers lead outdoor expeditions, like hiking, mountain biking and kayaking. They coach cadets in team sports, like football, hockey and rugby. They lead community projects like park clean-ups and tree planting. In general, they spend a lot of time being active – outside, on their feet, having fun and making a difference.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to make physical activity a regular part of your life. It’s one of many activities that promote a healthy lifestyle, and it will benefit your life enormously. If you haven’t exercised in a long time or are concerned about your physical activity levels, speak to your GP before beginning any regular exercise. They can provide physical activity recommendations that are specific to your fitness level and health concerns, and make sure that you stay injury free.