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Q&A with Dr Helen Brown

Medical & health articles 29 Nov 2017
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Get more movement into your day

Dr Helen Brown is an expert and thought leader in the fields of physical activity, lifestyle and health. She is also the Jean Hailes Head of Translation, Education and Communication, and President elect of the Australasian Society of Behavioural Health and Medicine.

Here, we quizzed her on all things physical activity: how we can sit less, move more and how to overcome common problems that often stand in our way.

How much physical activity should women aim to be doing for good health?

The recommended levels of physical activity per week are 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity, OR 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity, OR an equivalent combination of both.

Moderate intensity means you are putting in effort and puffing a little, but you're still able to hold a conversation. Vigorous intensity means you are puffing and panting so much that you can't hold a conversation.

So, what would reaching these recommendations look like?

An example of reaching the target would be jogging for 30 minutes a day, seven days a week. For many women this is a quite a lot of time to set aside for exercise, and with busy lives and lots of responsibilities it can be very hard to reach the targets in this way.

But it's important to know that being 'physically active' is more about making sure that you move! For example, walking to the train station, carrying the shopping, playing with your kids in the park, or taking the stairs instead of the escalator are all ways that you can incorporate movement into your day – and they all count towards your weekly quota of physical activity.

These examples are known as 'incidental physical activity'.

What advice do you have for busy women who aren't getting enough movement in their day?

I suggest they build lots of incidental physical activity into their day. However, for most women who don't lead an already active life, this is often not enough on its own.

They may also need to include activities such as brisk walking, jogging or a weekly gym session to reach the target, but the incidental physical activity really helps to build up the physically active minutes in short and easy bursts.

In other words, be as active as you can throughout your day, plus do a few exercise sessions a week and you'll be on your way to reaching the target.

Also, for women currently doing no physical activity, including more incidental physical activity is also a great way to ease yourself into it and start doing some activity.

Do you have any tips for goal-setting?

Often when we set a particular goal, we start out strongly, but have trouble actually sticking with it. For example, on New Year's Eve you might pledge to go running every day. You may do well for a few days or weeks, but suddenly life gets in the way – you might get sick or have to stay late at work, or it may all just get too much – and the plan goes out the window.

If this happens to you, I suggest setting simple goals for the short term; such as, 'for the next working week, on three days I'm going to walk to the park to have my lunch'. And don't be afraid of adapting those goals to suit what's going on around you. For example, if one day it's raining at lunchtime, go to the shopping centre and walk around for 20 minutes instead, or walk up and down several flights of stairs in your office building.

What's your advice for women who know they need to move more, but don't know where to start?

Firstly, find something you enjoy – physical activity should not be a punishment or something you dread doing!

You can also try making your physical activity a social occasion – do it with friends or as a group; you can help motivate each other and keep on track.

It can also be worthwhile to make physical activity part of your life and part of your daily chores. For example, when you do your weekly shop, walk there instead of driving, or take the stairs every day at work instead of the lift. In time, it will become a habit and second nature.

Another thing that helps is writing the activity down in your diary; schedule it as you would an important appointment.

Most importantly, always remember to take it step by step. Don't beat yourself up if you don't get it right the first time, or don't manage to stick to your schedule perfectly. Acknowledge and congratulate yourself for each small win and positive step – you're on the right path. You just need to keep going!

Read more about physical activity and exercise or watch a video demonstrating three simple exercises you can do at home.