The more the scientific studies progress in physical activity, the more the great benefits of physical exercise and sports practice are recognized in maintaining life’s quality and in fighting one of the biggest public health issues on the planet: obesity and its associated pathologies.
The official data
According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four adults does not exercise enough, as well as four out of five teenagers. According to the official document, it is estimated that this costs $54 billion in direct health care and another $14 billion in lost productivity, globally. The WHO underlines that regular exercise is fundamental for preventing and controlling heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. It also helps to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, reduce cognitive decline, and improve memory and brain health.
Benefits of Regular Physical Activity:
- Reduces the risk of premature death;
- Reduces the risk of dying from heart disease or stroke, responsible for 1/3 of all the causes of death;
- Reduces the risk of developing heart disease, colon cancer, and type 2 diabetes;
- Helps to prevent/reduce hypertension, which affects 1/5 of the world's adult population;
- Helps to control weight and decrease the risk of becoming obese;
- Helps to prevent/reduce osteoporosis, as well as reduce the risk of femoral neck fracture in women;
- Reduces the risk of developing lower back pain and may help the treatment of painful situations, namely lower back pain and knee pain;
- Helps the growth and maintenance of healthy bones, muscles, and joints;
- Promotes psychological well-being, reduces stress, anxiety, and depression;
- Helps to prevent and control risky behaviours (smoking, alcoholism, drug addiction, unhealthy eating, and violence), especially in children and adolescents.
Exercise improves learning and mental health
According to UNICEF, recent data point out the need to implement measures capable of fighting the Mental Health degradation, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic imposed global confinement, depriving young people and their families of physical activity. Not to mention the huge impact that the pandemic had on the shutdown and rollback of physical and sports education.
Beyond maintaining a healthy weight, gaining muscle mass, or losing fat, studies related to sports purposes link physical exercise to cognitive functions and emotional regulation. We all know that several hormones contribute to such regulation during and after exercise. Serotonin, for example, is a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood, digestion, sleep, and more. Dopamine, on the other hand, is a substance linked to motivation levels and its deficit generates demotivation to act, causing a lack of mood and willingness to perform various tasks, directly influencing attitude, attention, and learning.
How much physical exercise is necessary to maintain and improve health?
According to WHO, it is recommended that adults between the ages of 18 and 64 get two and a half hours of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. In the case of a more demanding intensity, the guideline is about half that time.
Moreover, the organization underlines the importance of including activities that contribute to maintaining or improving muscle strength and endurance. Concerning children, a minimum of one hour of physical activity per day is recommended.
Here are some recommendations to fight sedentarism by the FPC (Portuguese Cardiology Foundation)
Physical activity should start in childhood
During children's growth, both body and health benefit significantly from exercise. Additionally, it helps concentration, increases appetite, and encourages sociability. Anyway, anyone should initiate physical activity, adapting it to their health condition and age.
Introducing motion into your daily activities is a good strategy
- Look for situations with a minimum of 10 minutes, aiming to achieve a minimum total of 30 minutes per day:
- Choose stairs over elevators;
- Walk more (park the car farther away, and when using public transportation, get off one stop earlier);
- If you can, go for bicycle rides;
- Train jump rope.
Choose a sport that you like and that you can practice
Longer, more moderate ones are ideal. Swimming, running, cycling, hiking, and ballroom dancing are activities that get the heart machine going.
Practice at least three times a week. Accompanied, exercise feels even better - invite a family member or a friend to join you. A five-minute warm-up and a five-minute cool-down may be advisable, depending on the activity.
Increase exercise intensity gradually (over months)
With regular exercise, your body will increase its effort capacity and reinvigorate itself better and better. A well-conditioned heart can do its job beating 36,000 times less per day than the heart of an untrained individual.
Physical activity must be appropriate to your health condition
Physical activity often helps to recover from many diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, osteoporosis, or asthma, but it must be adapted to each case.
Age is also a factor to be considered. For younger people, exercise might be more competitive, whereas, for people over 35 years old, physical activity should be taken more lightly.
Experts believe that because you need to be motivated to stay active, it is essential that each person derives pleasure from the physical activity they choose to practice, as well as increase their perception of competence while performing it and have the adequate support from family, peers, and professionals when establishing good interpersonal relationships in this context.
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