Updated: Feb 2, 2021
In Dan Buettner’s book “Blue Zones” he enlightens readers on how centenarians – people who have lived to be 100 years old – lead lifestyles that naturally induce movement. This is mostly in the form of gardening, house work and walking to most places. Upon analysing their days, Buettner found that they were physically active in some form every 20 minutes, albeit at low to moderate intensity. This point holds significance if the purpose behind exercise endeavours is to be healthy across your lifespan and physical activity research supports this. Shifting the focus from exercising to being physically active could lead to adopting a truly active lifestyle and benefit your health in the long term.
What is the Difference?
Physical activity is simply bodily movement produced by your skeletal muscles. This can be dancing, gardening, house chores, a social game of tennis, etc. Exercise is a subset of physical activity that is structured and repetitive bodily movement, with the goal of improving one or more fitness components of physical like strength, flexibility or endurance. It is recommended in physical activity guidelines to exercise for an accumulated duration of 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a week at moderate intensity for general health. But if you are still sedentary for the majority of the day, the health benefits you could potentially gain are minimized. In other words, exercising is not always the same as being sufficiently active unless we keep moving frequently throughout each day.
If mainstream exercise is not practical or accessible for any reason, focus on being physically active through activities of daily living first. Tend to your garden, walk your pets regularly, play games with your children or grandchildren in the yard, even dance while you do house chores. You will still reap some health benefits and improve your basic fitness level, especially if you have been sedentary for some time. Progress is progress.
If exercising is already part of your routine, focus on being consistently active throughout your day over and above that. Not to the point of exhaustion, but frequently enough to break cycles of prolonged inactivity. For every 30 minutes of being seated, we should move for 2 minutes. Work and academic settings are no exception, I can’t emphasize this enough. The majority of each day is spent engaging in these activities so you need to make them work for you. Use stairs instead of the lift; do a few office-friendly exercises every 30-45 minutes; move printers and bins further away so that you have to get up to access them; take a short walk or stretch when you are brainstorming or on a call. Basic physical activity practices should be encouraged and normalized in these settings.
Making Physical Activity Work for You
Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
No exercise equipment available? This is not essential. There are many exercises you can do using your body weight or basic props at home. If you prefer exercise supervision, engage a professional to support you in person or virtually.
Make it environmentally friendly and fun
If your choice of activity is suited to your environment this will set you up for success. Assess what features you have around you to keep you motivated to stay active. Physical activity can be anything and can be affordable, so be open-minded.
Make it a ritual, like personal hygiene
Think about what your commitment will do for your health and your wallet over time, not just aesthetic or performance-related results. These regular investments will pay off. Movement is essentially medicine.
Build a tribe around you - real or virtual.
This could be your family, friends, work colleagues or a fitness community. This year’s globally-imposed lock-downs have been proof that you can be physically distant yet remain connected to like-minded people. Be active as a group, or support one another in your individual health and fitness endeavours.
Keep moving, if not for anything else, then for health’s sake.
Yours in wellness,
This article was featured in Harare Magazine
American College of Sports Medicine. (2017). Complete Guide to Health & Fitness. Champaign: American College of Sports Medicine.
Buettner, D. (2010). The Blue Zones: . Washington: National Geographic Society.
Bushman, B. A. (2020). Exercise for Prevention of Chronic Diseases. American College of Sports Medicine, 5-10.
European Food Information Council. (2020, April 1). 9 Proven Benefits of Physical Activity. Retrieved from eufic: https://www.eufic.org/en/healthy-living/article/9-proven-benefits-of-physical-activity
Hoeger, W. W., & Hoeger, S. A. (2011). Lifetime Physical Fitness and Wellness: A Personalized Program. Belmont: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Walsh, J., & B, M. (2019). 2019 Wellness Trends, from Global Wellness Summit. Miami: Global Wellness Institute.
World Health Organization. (2020, April 3). Physical Activity. Retrieved from World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity