Get active or get sick
Exercising is an excellent way to boost health and prevent disease, but staying active throughout the day is even more important. Sitting at the computer or spending too much time watching TV can be actively harmful to your health, researchers say.
The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, followed more than 3,900 men and women over 12.5 years. They found an active life, even without regular exercise, to be linked to smaller waists and healthier hearts.
Participants in the study who had reported high levels of non-exercise activity were less likely to suffer a heart attack and die than those who were inactive.
“Engaging in regular exercise is still important,” lead author Elin Ekblom-Bak, of the Åstrand Laboratory of Work Physiology at the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden, told Reuters.
“We saw that those who exercised regularly and that also had a daily physically active life had the lowest-risk profile of all.”
Recent reports from the National Cancer Institute show fewer than five per cent of adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day.
According to the World Health Organisation’s website, “physical inactivity is estimated to be the main cause for approximately 21 to 25 per cent of breast and colon cancers, 27 per cent of diabetes and approximately 30 per cent of ischaemic heart disease burden. The term ‘physical activity’ should not be mistaken with ‘exercise’. Exercise, is a sub-category of physical activity that is planned, structured, repetitive... Physical activity includes exercise as well as other activities which involve bodily movement and are done as part of playing, working, active transportation, house chores and recreational activities”.
Physical inactivity directly equates to six per cent of annual deaths, and that is statistically equivalent to the deaths caused by diabetes and nearly the number of deaths associated with tobacco use. Escalating statistics highlight physical inactivity as the fourth leading risk factor for premature death.
“The link between physical inactivity and cardiovascular disease is profound,” said Dr Kingsley K Akinroye, vice-president elect of the World Heart Federation. “Escalating levels of sitting and non-exercise behaviours are leading to the increase in the prevalence of high blood pressure—a leading risk factor in heart attack and stroke.”
Even more alarming, we are seeing high levels of physical inactivity in our youth and adolescents: an important indicator in weight gain, the development of type 2 diabetes and premature cardiovascular diseases.
Becoming more active can lower your blood pressure by as much as 4 to 9 mm Hg. That’s the same reduction in blood pressure delivered by some blood pressure medications. Physical activity can also increase levels of good cholesterol.
Physical activity and exercise is needed for all—regardless of weight, health condition or age—to achieve optimal health and fight off disease. For each hour of regular exercise you get, you’ll gain about two hours of additional life expectancy.
In addition, if you are trying to quit smoking and you are pregnant, why not try exercise? Exercise cuts tobacco cravings in pregnancy.
If your health isn’t enough to encourage you to quit smoking, then the health of your baby should be. Smoking while pregnant increases the possibility of stillbirth, miscarriage and low birth weight, especially in teens and young adults.
Teens and young women have the highest reported smoking prevalence, and it’s only getting worse. The problem is children experiment with tobacco and it often turns into a lifelong habit. Nearly 90 per cent of adults say they started smoking by the age of 18.
This is a reflection of aggressive tobacco industry marketing to girls. Tobacco companies advertise in magazines, market their brands through direct mail and adverts, promote their products in convenience stores and coerce youth through Internet websites and social media sites.
They fail to mention tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals and at least 60 cancer-causing compounds. Two compounds are especially hazardous to a mother and child: highly addictive nicotine and carbon monoxide.
Pregnant women often have intensified desires for cigarettes due to increases in their metabolism. The addictive effect is very strong and often proves extra difficult to cut cravings.
However, according to a new study, a brisk walk has been shown to temporarily reduce the effects of nicotine. Exercise was known to interrupt nicotine cravings for men and women, but it was still unclear for expecting young mothers.
“This was the first time we have been able to replicate the findings with pregnant smokers,” said Harry Prapavessis, director of the Exercise and Health Psychology Laboratory at Western University in Ontario, Canada, who led the research.
As little as 15 to 20 minutes of walking at a mild to moderate pace was found to ward off cravings. Additional benefits included less irritability, restlessness, tension and other withdrawal symptoms.
There’s no safe amount of smoking for pregnant women of any age; the more you smoke, the worse the outcomes for your baby. This is not true for exercise—it’s good for you and your baby.
Exercise can prevent excess weight gain during pregnancy, prevent gestational diabetes and lower the risk of birth complications. Being more fit can also help with pregnancy-related aches and pains, which makes labour and recovery a bit easier.
Even if you don’t quit, regular exercise is still beneficial to you and your child. When you exercise, your lungs and blood vessels expand which increases circulation of oxygenated blood throughout you and your baby’s body.
Regular exercise during pregnancy has been proven to reduce stress, improve sleep and prevent depression as well. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime or you may be too energised to fall asleep and experience insomnia.
Barring certain pregnancy-related risk factors, pregnant women can continue to exercise throughout their pregnancy, right up until delivery. Isometric, or contract-and-relax exercises, are recommended for expecting moms to improve core strength and support pelvic ligament laxity, particularly during late pregnancy.
Remember to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise programme, especially if you have any health concerns.
• Dr Cory Couillard is an international health columnist who works in
collaboration with the World Health
Organisation’s goals of disease
prevention and control. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.
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For additional information, visit the
World Heart Federation’s website at