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What exactly does it mean to be physically active? By Fareeha Jay, Specialist Diabetes Dietitian

What counts as physical activity?

Any type of movement at a moderate or vigorous intensity counts as physical activity. However, activities like cooking, shopping, and doing the laundry don’t count as your heart rate doesn’t tend to increase. Physical activity can include anything that you enjoy such as walking, running, cycling, swimming, dancing or playing a specific sport.

How much physical activity to include?

The government guidelines are to include 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (like fast walking, dancing, cycling) a week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity (like running, skipping, swimming, sports) a week. You can split this time over the week. For example, you can do 30 minutes of fast walking on five days of the week and then rest for two. Generally, you should try to stay on your feet as much as possible and reduce the amount of time you spend sitting or lying down.

Physical activity during Winter

It is easier to be active during Summer when the weather is better, however, it’s still important to stay active during the Winter months too, even though it might be a bit more challenging. If you are planning to go out, make sure that you wear several layers of warm clothing. Monitor the weather and make plans accordingly. In case of extreme weather conditions, it is always great to work out at home and consider following exercises on YouTube or on social media. There are so many resources available, and exercises can be followed for any level of intensity.

Physical activity is not always about weight Loss

People tend to include physical activity in their lives when they feel that they want to lose weight. That should not be the case and physical activity should be part of our lifestyle. Just as we eat, drink and sleep; physical activity should also be part of the routine. Including regular activity in our lives will help reduce health risks such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. It will strengthen our bones and muscles, prevent falls, and also help us to perform better in our everyday activities. There is research to suggest that including physical activity may have a positive impact on our mental health such as reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood, improving self-esteem, and even improving cognitive function.

Myths around physical activity

“If you want to conceive don’t do any physical activity, specifically aerobic exercise”

As opposed to the general belief, being active can boost fertility. It can help to regulate your energy balance, improve your lipid profile, increase the expression of antioxidant enzymes, and relieve stress and anxiety; all contributing to improved fertility outcomes.

“No exercise during pregnancy”

Exercise during pregnancy will not only help maintain a healthy weight but also help your body to prepare for labour with improved strength and endurance. It may also help reduce backache and constipation. Exercises such as walking, yoga, and low-impact aerobics are great. The important thing is to listen to your body. Exercises such as football, tennis, squash, and horse riding should be avoided. 

“Elderly should not do any physical activity”

In reality, it is the other way around. As you get older it’s even more important to be regularly active as it keeps you mobile and may prevent different health conditions and falls. Physical activity improves muscle mass, making the body’s muscles stronger. Being active also enables you to keep independent, and less dependent on others. Try to keep as active as your abilities and conditions allow, but aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week.

“Lifting weights will make women bulk up”

Women do not bulk up by lifting weights. It’s an excellent way to build lean muscle and reduce fat. Increased muscle mass helps to burn more calories and aid weight loss. Lifting weights will help improve bone density and prevent women from developing osteoporosis and many other chronic health conditions.

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