March is National Nutrition Month and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) only 1 in 4 United States adults meet the recommended physical activity guidelines. Why do we care about physical activity so much? A lack of, or low levels of physical activity can increase the risk for heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some kinds of cancer. It has been found that the more you sit, the greater your risk for disease. Not only are these diseases cumbersome for those living with it, but it is also associated with an estimated yearly health care cost of $117 billion.
Any body movement that works your muscles and requires more energy than resting can be counted towards your physical activity for the day. Some examples of physical activity include dancing, walking, gardening, swimming, horseback riding, cleaning, etc. How active should we be every week? According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans we should aim to obtain at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week. Older adults should aim to get 150 minutes of activity each week, but if you can’t do this, be as physically active as your abilities and condition allows. The difference between physical activity and exercise is that exercise is a planned or structured type of physical activity such as lifting weights, taking a spinning class, or playing sports.
Regular physical activity:
- Improves sleep
- Increases ability to perform everyday activities
- Improved cognitive ability and a reduced risk of dementia
- Improved health of bones and muscles
- Helps you reach and/or maintain a healthy weight
- Improves lung function
- Strengthens heart
- Reduces heart disease risk
- Can lower blood pressure and triglycerides
- Can raise HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol)
- Helps the body manage blood sugar and insulin levels
- Reduced levels of c-reactive protein (CRP)
There are four types of physical activity, which include aerobic, muscle strengthening, bone-strengthening and stretching. It’s important to include a variety of different physical activity types in order to obtain the many benefits from each. For example, aerobic activity is going to benefit your heart and lungs the most, whereas bone-strengthening activities will make your bones strong. The recommendation is to include at least 2 days a week of muscle strengthening activities, such as free weights, body weight exercises or stationary weights.
Tips to Add Activity
- Take a walk after lunch
- Limit screen time
- Stand during phone calls
- Play with kids, or play lawn games, instead of watching TV
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Get off the bus a stop early
- Park farther away from buildings
Small Steps, Big Wins
Physical activity is not a ‘one size fits all’, choose activities that you enjoy doing, so you can look forward to it every day. If you’re not active now, start slow and add minutes or weight over time. Even a few minutes at a time adds up by the end of the day. Physical activity is only one part of living a healthy lifestyle, don’t forget to aim to consume a well-balanced diet, and get adequate rest as well!
Written by: Shelley Balls, MDA, RD, LD
University of Wyoming Extension- Nutrition and Food Safety Educator