Physical inactivity is a major modifiable cause of disease burden worldwide and is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality behind tobacco smoking, hypertension and elevated blood glucose.

Despite being a modifiable risk factor for death and disease, 60% of Australians don’t meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity.

Increasing your regular level of physical activity can be just as helpful to your health as taking a pill for your blood pressure but it comes with many more added benefits.

Benefits of regular exercise

Regular participation in physical activity increases cardiorespiratory fitness and is known to reduce the risk of health problems such as cardiovascular disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, depression, osteoporosis, and osteoarthritis.

Exercising regularly has favourable effects on the blood vessels as well as blood pressure and lipid profiles. This helps reduce plaque build up in the arteries leading to a reduction in the risk of coronary artery disease.

Physical activity can enhance skeletal muscle response to insulin, increasing insulin sensitivity for hours to days after exercise and reversing or preventing the effects of type 2 diabetes.

Exercise during treatment for cancer can help manage side effects, reduce negative effects of treatment such as muscle loss and fatigue, delay progression of disease, lower recurrence rate and improve survival.

Physical activity helps lift spirits and relieve stress by releasing mood elevating hormones.

Physical activity reduces joint pain and helps protect joints by building muscle strength to lighten the load put on them.

Weight bearing and impact exercises can prevent bone loss associated with ageing and improve bone mineral density in those with low bone density. It also reduces risks of falls and fractures.

Physical activity guidelines for health

The World Health Organization recommends that adults undertake 150 minutes of moderate physical activity such as walking per week. This equates to half an hour per day for 5 days a week, and each day can be split into 3 x 10 minute bouts of activity if needed.

Alternatively, the same benefits are derived from 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity (eg jogging or other aerobic exercise).

Additional health benefits are available when the amount of exercise is increased to 300 minutes of moderate activity per week (60 minutes each day for 5 days) or 150 minutes of vigorous activity per week.

It is also recommended to participate in resistance exercises for all the major muscle groups twice per week and older adults at risk of falls can benefit from including balance exercises too.

Even if you are not able to reach the minimum exercise guidelines right away, it is important to do as much exercise as you can and try to increase it gradually.

You can start low intensity exercise such as walking straight away, however for exercise more vigorous than a brisk walk or exceeding demands of everyday living, previously sedentary and older people may benefit from being assessed for conditions that might be associated with higher cardiovascular risks and should speak to their doctor first.

If you need some individualised advice on exercise prescription for health or would like a general screening prior to starting an exercise program, a consultation at Shire Sports Medicine can help you get active and healthy in a safe and enjoyable way.