Desmond Croker RN, Dip. OHS, BSN, MSN, CCDE
June 23 2023
The delight of sinking into the couch after a long day, maybe accompanied by an indulgent meal or a drink, your only exercise being the occasional reach for the TV remote. It's an all-too-familiar scenario that's often shared as a source of humor or relatability in our modern, fast-paced society.
Indeed, many of us associate a good time with inactivity, indulgence, and instant gratification from our favorite TV shows or games. Yet, as we move into an era marked by an increased focus on health and wellness, it's time to ask ourselves: is this notion of 'cool' serving us, or is it costing us?
Undeniably, it is only when our well-being is under threat do we start to consider the importance of a healthy lifestyle, and the health benefits of exercise are no longer a matter of jest.
Going out for a brisk walk today seems more appealing than an evening at the pub. After all, the new 'cool 'is taking care of our bodies.
Physical activity is not as daunting as it might seem. Contrary to popular belief, it isn't limited to arduous hours at the gym or intense workout sessions.
The World Health Organization defines physical activity as "voluntary movement produced by the skeletal muscles that require energy expenditure." This broad definition includes activities like house cleaning, doing chores, playing sports, cycling, walking, swimming, and even activities involved in physically demanding jobs.
Impressive as we humans are, staying active would be second nature to us. Yet, the evidence tells a different story.
In the UK alone, the average adult spends nine hours daily in a sedentary position, balancing work, commuting, watching TV, and general inactivity.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, almost two-thirds of adolescents are insufficiently physically active, ≥40% are sedentary, and ≥20% are physically inactive. These behaviors are more frequent among girls than boys.
Fortunately, to help navigate our path toward an active lifestyle, the World Health Organization offers clear guidelines. WHO recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week. For additional health benefits, adults should aim to double these numbers.
Also, strength-training exercises targeting the major muscle groups should be performed at least twice a week.
A moderate-intensity activity gets your heart pumping and your energy expenditure to three to six times what it would be while sitting quietly.
This could include brisk walking, heavy cleaning, light cycling, tennis, or manual work. You can reach your activity quota by incorporating more movement and a faster pace into your everyday routine.
It doesn't have to be strenuous or time-consuming. Remember, it's all about keeping active and making small, sustainable changes to your lifestyle.
However, suppose you need more time or want to get more out of your workouts. In that case, you might prefer vigorous-intensity activities, which require an energy expenditure of six times or more than your resting metabolic rate. These activities include running, fast cycling, swimming at a fast pace, competitive sports, heavy manual labor, resistance training, and aerobics. You only need to engage in these activities for 75 minutes per week, which means 15 minutes a day to meet your quota.
The beauty of physical activity lies in its adaptability. It can be as simple as aiming for 10,000 steps daily or something more structured like working out twice a week.
The goal is to create a regime that is both manageable and enjoyable, making it easier to maintain in the long run.
Unfortunately, we often ignore our health until we face a problem that forces us to change. We tend to underestimate the power of regular physical activity, not realizing its far-reaching benefits on our health and well-being. The potential benefits are vast and profound, extending beyond merely improving physical appearance or strength. Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of dementia by up to 30%, hip fracture by 68%, depression by 30%, and death from all causes by 30%. Furthermore, it can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 35%, type 2 diabetes by 40%, colon cancer by 30%, and breast cancer by 20%.
These are staggering figures. Imagine if these benefits could be encapsulated in a pill. It is likely the most prescribed medication for many health issues.
But the beauty of it is that you don't need a prescription. This magic 'pill' is within your reach, readily available to you at any moment. You must seize the opportunity and take the first step towards a more active lifestyle.
It's high time we redefine what it means to be 'cool.' Instead of glorifying sedentary behavior and unhealthy habits, we can start championing the choices that truly serve our health and happiness. We can make conscious decisions to move more, challenge our bodies, and invest in our well-being, not just when faced with a health crisis but every day.
Physical activity is more than just a way to burn extra calories or achieve fitness goals. It's an investment in your long-term health and quality of life. The more you move, the better your chances of living a happier, fuller, and longer life. This shift in perspective can empower us to make healthier choices and foster a culture where physical activity is admired and celebrated.
So, what if the new 'cool' becomes reaching your 10,000 steps a day, swimming, cycling to work, or even challenging your friends to a tennis match? What if we embraced physical activity as a necessary task and an enjoyable part of our lives?
This change could redefine our societal norms, putting us on a path to a healthier future, individually and collectively.
Remember, every step counts, and every active choice matters. Each decision to move more is a step towards better health and a longer, more vibrant life. It's always possible to start. Let's redefine cool, one active choice at a time.
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