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Time to get moving

Medical & health articles 7 Feb 2018
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Any time we move our bodies, we are being physically active, whether it's walking to the tram stop, walking up a flight of stairs, or racing around after the kids in the morning rush.

So take heart that you're already being physically active. However we do know that sometimes it can feel like there aren't enough hours in the day to be really active – as in, to exercise. Or maybe energy is an issue; in your free time, you might just want to flop on the couch, rather than put on your sneakers.

Or perhaps you do want to be more active, but would like an exercise buddy to help keep you on track. Research tells us that women are more likely to be active if they exercise with others.

Here are three simple exercises you can do at the office, at home, in the park or at the gym.

The many benefits of moving

Being active has amazing health benefits! It:

  • reduces your risk of getting chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes
  • helps maintain blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels
  • prevents unhealthy weight
  • builds strong muscles and bones
  • builds good mental health (and reduces feelings of anxiety and stress)
  • helps you to socialise and meet new people.

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How active should you be?

Australian adults should follow the following guidelines for health benefits:

  • be active on most, preferably all, days every week.
  • do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week.
  • each week, accumulate 150-300 minutes (2 ½ - 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75-150 minutes (1 ¼ - 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week.

What does moderate / vigorous physical activity mean?

Moderate intensity activities require us to put in some effort. We should be puffing a little, but able to carry out a conversation. Examples include brisk walking, swimming, social tennis, riding a bike and dancing. Vigorous intensity activities require us to breathe much harder – make us puff and pant. Examples include jogging, boxing and playing many competitive sports.

What is sedentary behaviour?

Sitting or lying down (not including sleeping) are 'sedentary' behaviours. Sedentary behaviour requires our bodies to use little energy and if we are too sedentary, we can have poor health outcomes. You can be sedentary at work, at home, when travelling or during your leisure time.

Examples of sedentary behaviour include:

  • sitting or lying down while watching television or playing electronic games
  • driving a car
  • sitting or lying down to read, write, or work at a desk or computer.

How do I avoid being too sedentary?

  • Minimise the amount of time spent in prolonged sitting
  • Break up long periods of sitting as often as possible – every 20-30 minutes, get up and move!
  • Check out Australian Government recommendations for tips and ideas on how to get moving, and for how long, according to your age.
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Why movement matters

Together with a healthy diet, physical activity is an important part of having a healthy weight. But did you also know that exercise may be able to change the way you look at food?

Research from the UK showed that after exercise, the brain responds more positively to images of healthier foods (such as fruits, vegetables and wholemeal bread) compared to images of junk food such as chips, brownies and cheeseburgers. So that's a double-win for weight loss!

If you're postmenopausal and having trouble sleeping, research suggests that physical activity can also help with this. A study found that increasing your levels of activity can significantly improve your sleep quality, and even meeting 50% of the recommended levels of activity can greatly reduce your odds of having sleep issues.

Tips to increase your levels of physical activity

At work

Sit less. If your job requires you to sit for long periods, break it up by going for a quick walk around the office every 20-30 minutes – set a timer on your phone to remind you. Another good trick is to drink water throughout the day – it keeps you hydrated and forces you to get up regularly to fill your glass in the kitchen. You could also consider buying a sit-stand desk for work if you spend a lot of time at a desk.

Consider how you get to work. A recent study found that people who cycled to work had a 46% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing some types of cancer. That's a big reason to get on your bike! You may not be able to cycle all the way, but you could consider cycling part of the way and taking public transport the rest of the trip. If biking isn't an option for you, you could try walking all (or part of) the way there instead; the study found that this also has health benefits.

Australia's largest bicycle-riding organisation, Bicycle Network, wants to encourage more women to get on their bikes, as women currently comprise just 30% of all cyclists.

Anthea Hargreaves of Bicycle Network says many women find it hard to make the time for exercise, so riding to work is a great way of making physical activity part of their everyday lives.

"Riding a bike is the easiest way to get your weekly dose of exercise," she says. "Swapping the drive to work with a bike ride is a great way to get exercise in and can often be quicker."

On the way up. If you work in a multi-storey building, challenge yourself to take the stairs when you arrive at and leave work. Start small and just do a couple of floors a day (taking the elevator the rest of the way) and work your way up from there.

Walk the talk. Walking meetings are becoming commonplace in Australian workplaces. Get some tips for how to have a successful walking meeting and put your best foot forward for office health.

Watch this short animation on three ways to include incidental exercise throughout your day.

At home

Map it out. Get out Google maps, mark down all the places you visit regularly that are within 2km of home and consider walking, cycling or jogging there. It could be the kids' school, the local shops or a friend's house. These daily bursts of activity all add up!

Your exercise buddy is out there. In our annual Women's Health Survey, women told us it was often hard for them to find someone to be active with. Ask around, put it out on social media that you're looking for an exercise buddy and, chances are, someone you know is looking for someone just like you! Even if they don't live nearby, consider a weekly mobile phone catch-up, where you chat while you walk around the block.

If you have kids and feel like you can't fit anything else into your schedule, why not get active with your kids? After school, set a limit on screen time and get out into the fresh air. Play in the backyard or use your local park, walk the dog together or borrow a friend's dog once a week. Make family time a chance to move more, play more and have fun together.

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What changes are you going to make today?

  • Take some time today to think about what stops you from being more active.
  • Talk it over with your family, friends or doctor about ways to overcome these challenges. Everyone is different when it comes to physical activity and exercise; what works well for one person may not suit you and your life.

So go on, write down your goal, text your friend, record a video of yourself on why you want to be more active and play it back once a week to keep you on track. Whatever you do, take the first step today, because once you start being more physically active, you'll wonder why you didn't start sooner.

This content originally appeared as a part of Women's Health Week 2017. Sign up for Women's Health Week to receive five days of content like this in September 2018 and don't miss the action.