Technical developments allow people to lead their daily lives with little physical exertion. Too many people embrace these energy-saving developments without compensating with other physical activity.
Studies show that one in three Europeans do not exercise at all in their free time and the average European spends over five hours a day sitting down. Furthermore, two in three adults do not exercise sufficiently to get any health benefits from it. The economic cost of physical inactivity (from health care costs and lost productivity) is estimated at €1.2 billion.
In Europe, six of the seven biggest risk factors for premature death – blood pressure, cholesterol, Body Mass Index, inadequate fruit and vegetable intake, physical inactivity and alcohol abuse – relate to how we eat, drink and move. Reports are defining a worldwide epidemic in terms of obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, which are risk factors for multiple adverse health outcomes. Studies have shown that physical inactivity doubles health risks and adds a disease burden to society comparable with smoking, obesity and hypertension, and such inactivity during middle age appears
to shorten the life span. Numerous studies have shown that physical activity has far-reaching benefits on health and disease, including reducing mortality rates. In fact some studies show that long-term regular physical activity has a quantifiable health benefit, adding between three and five years on average to a person’s lifespan, compared to those who take little or no exercise.
Regular physical activity can improve health and reduce the risk of premature death in the following ways:
- Reduces the risk of developing coronary heart disease and the risk of dying from it
- Reduces the risk of stroke
- Reduces the risk of having a second heart attack in people who have already had one heart attack
- Lowers both total blood cholesterol and triglycerides and increases high-density lipoproteins (HDL or the “good” cholesterol)
- Lowers the risk of developing high blood pressure
- Helps reduce blood pressure in people who already have hypertension
- Lowers the risk of developing non-insulin-dependent (type 2) diabetes mellitus
- Reduces the risk of developing colon and breast cancer
- Helps people achieve and maintain a healthy body weight
- Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety
- Promotes psychological well-being and reduces feelings of stress
- Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints
- Helps older adults become stronger and better able to move about without falling or becoming excessively fatigued
Everyone can benefit from physical activity
Parents and children
Parents can help their children maintain a physically active lifestyle by providing encouragement and opportunities for physical activity. Families can plan outings and events that allow and encourage everyone in the family to be active.
Regular physical activity improves strength, builds lean muscle, and decreases body fat. Activity can build stronger bones to last a lifetime.
No one is too old to enjoy the benefits of regular physical activity. Evidence indicates that muscle-strengthening exercises can reduce the risk of falling and fracturing bones and can improve the ability to live independently.
People trying to manage their weight
Regular physical activity burns calories while preserving lean muscle mass. Regular physical activity is a key component of any weight-loss or weight-management effort.
People with high blood pressure
Regular physical activity helps lower blood pressure
People with physical disabilities, including arthritis
Regular physical activity can help people with chronic, disabling conditions improve their stamina and muscle strength. It also can improve psychological well-being and quality of life by increasing the ability to perform the activities of daily life.
Everyone under stress, including persons experiencing anxiety or depression
Regular physical activity improves one’s mood, helps relieve depression, and increases feelings of well-being.
The World Health organization encourages adults to take at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day defined as any body movement that results in energy expenditure. This includes walking, cycling, playing, housework, climbing stairs as well as sports. Children should take at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.
For more information or services available from the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate email [email protected] or call 2326 6000.
DR CHARMAINE GAUCI
MD. MSc, PhD, FRSPH, FFPH
is the Director of the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate. She is a senior lecturer at the University of Malta and is active in the field of public health. T: 23266000