During the world's largest and most important sporting competition, the Olympic Games, the scientific journal The Lancet published a few studies on the importance of physical activity and the public health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle, aggravated by the covid-19 pandemic that led to the confinement of millions of people about a year and a half ago.
The Lancet calls for "immediate and urgent action" by policymakers to prioritize research and public health measures to improve the population's physical activity levels.
The journal reinforces that the lack of regular exercise is related to an increased risk of contracting various diseases. The associated costs are around 54 billion dollars a year, more than half paid by public budgets.
In the editorial dedicated to the topic, The Lancet recalls that during the recent periods of confinement, exercise came to be considered essential by several governments, as necessary as food, housing, and medical care. They thus question bluntly in the editorial: "so why are decision-makers not committed to promoting physical activity as a primary need for humans regardless of the pandemic context?"
The official data
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) data, one in four adults doesn't get enough physical exercise, and the same is true for four in five adolescents. Globally, this is estimated to cost $54 billion in direct health care and another $14 billion in lost productivity, the official document states. The WHO stresses that regular physical activity is essential for preventing and controlling heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. It also helps reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, reducing cognitive decline, and improving memory and brain health.
Exercise: cognitive functions and emotion regulation
Studies regarding the functions of sports, the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight, gaining muscle mass, or losing fat show a link between exercise and cognitive processes and emotion regulation. We know that several hormones contribute to such regulation during and after exercise. For example, serotonin, known as the "feel-good hormone", helps regulate sleep and is related to mood swings and depression prevention. On the other hand, dopamine is a substance linked to motivation levels in that its deficit generates demotivation to act, causing a lack of willingness to perform various tasks, directly influencing attitude, attention, and learning.
Choosing a sport you like
Experts believe that because one must be motivated to stay active, it is essential that each person derives pleasure from the physical activity they choose to practice. Support from family members, peers, and professionals is also paramount.
The average sportsperson should do something they enjoy, or at least something they adapt well to, as long as they don't give up. It's more important to be regular than to do very vigorous exercise: it is proven that 30 to 40 minutes of active walking every day is the basis for moving fat tissue.
Worrying figures amongst young people and people with disabilities
The authors of the various studies that The Lancet cites have gathered other data: 80% of adolescent students do not meet the WHO recommendations of 60 minutes of daily physical activity, 25% are sitting for more than three hours a day, and 40% never walk to school.
The researchers regret that there is little research on mental health and its relation to physical activity among children and young people, knowing the high rates of sedentary lifestyles: 60% of boys and 56% of girls are in front of a TV set every day for at least two hours. When it comes to video games, the percentage is 51% (boys) and 33% (girls).
When it comes to people with disabilities, they are more unprotected in their right to exercise, thus running significantly more health risks.
One thing is sure from the research published: at least two and a half hours of physical exercise per week bring about significant benefits for cardiovascular, mental, and muscular health.
The number of people doing sports has increased
On a positive note, several studies conducted in 2020, including a study by five universities, conducted in partnership with the Portuguese Institute for Sports and Youth, confirmed an increase in the number of individuals practicing physical exercise and the time dedicated to it during the pandemic period. The COVID-19 related confinements raised the population's awareness of the importance of physical activity.
A change that is here to stay?
We believe that, vaccination plans moving all steam ahead, the pandemic is coming to an end. All this situation has brought about new realities, such as telecommuting, which may give citizens more time to fight sedentary lifestyles: spend the time exercising instead of commuting, for example. This seems to be the perfect equation to take the home/street/online exercise experience into the future as an essential prevention strategy for physical and mental health.
At Move Sports, we believe in the transformative power of sports. Sports is a celebration of the human body and the human soul working together. Sports make us bigger, better - not only physically, but mentally too. It doesn't matter if you are young or less young, a novice or an expert athlete: whatever sports you love, physical activity is a fundamental part of a long, healthy life.