HEALTH: The real importance of physical exercise for your all round health

Eimear McCoy  - Student Dietitian @Health_aligned


Eimear McCoy - Student Dietitian @Health_aligned

HEALTH: The real importance of physical exercise for your all round health

Different types of physical activity and their classification based on intensity

Regular physical activity (PA) is one of the most important things we can do for our health. Unfortunately as a nation we are not meeting our PA guidelines, according to the results of “The National Survey of Lifestyles Attitudes and Nutrition” for example only 41% of Irish adults were reported to take part in regular PA.
Furthermore, The Health Behaviours in School Children survey revealed that over half of primary school age children do not achieve the recommended level of PA.
In this week’s article we will be discussing the current PA guidelines in Ireland, the benefits associated with regular exercise and some common misconceptions. Next week’s article then will focus on PA from a nutrition point of view, discussing some of the basic nutrition principles behind how we can fuel our training.

PA guidelines
In Ireland the HSE and Department of Health have produced “The National Guidelines on Physical Activity for Ireland ”. The aim of these guidelines are to highlight the importance of PA and to outline the recommendations for people of all ages and abilities.
For those aged between 16-64 years and those aged 64+ the guidelines state that we should be aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity five days a week (150 minutes a week) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week.
Examples of moderate intensity exercise include; brisk walking, general gardening and medium pace swimming.
Examples of vigorous activity on the other hand include ; jogging, running, active sports (e.g. soccer) and circuit training.
Finally the guidelines advise that we take part in muscle strengthening and resistance training at least twice a week, examples of which include ; circuit training, carrying groceries, using exercise bands or weights.
As always these guidelines should be interpreted with a pinch of salt, they have been developed from a population perspective and therefore are not suited to everyone’s individual abilities / needs.
The most important point to remember here is that some physical activity is better than none, but more is better than some. Essentially meaning the more active we are the better.

PA benefits
There is robust evidence to support the health benefits of regular PA and contrary to what some may believe these benefits go far beyond burning calories and losing weight.
PA has been shown to play an important role in preventing and treating several diseases (e.g. CVD, T2DM and obesity) through its ability to improve glycaemic control, insulin sensitivity, regulate blood pressure and control blood lipid profile.
Regular PA has also been associated with better weight control, improvements in mental health, learning and attainment ability and delivering healthcare system cost savings.

Exercise is often viewed from a negative perspective , many see it as a chore something they have to do in order to “burn off” all the food they have eaten or something they have to do in order to look a certain way.
These thought process’ or narratives that are very common are in fact extremely problematic and troublesome.
Exercise should never be regarded as punishment, it should be viewed as something positive as something enjoyable and rewarding.
Recent body-image research has found that those who exercise for appearance purposes only are more likely to have poorer engagement in PA and experience more eating disorder symptoms, higher symptoms of depression and lower self-esteem (Homan & Tylka, 2014).
On the other hand focusing on health goals related to the functionality of the body (e.g. setting strength goals) has been linked to more positive body image and greater health-promoting behaviours such as engaging in PA.
So essentially what this research has found is that exercising only for appearance purposes can result in negative psychological and physical health consequences.
Not only this, but by exercising for appearance reasons only you are much less likely to remain engaged in PA.
There is a common misconception that in order to be fit and healthy one must take part in strenuous activity everyday whether that be going to the gym or running a daily 5km.
This is not the case at all, we don’t have to go to the gym or run to be fit, there are so many other ways that we can move our bodies, for example walking, cycling, playing a sport, swimming, dancing etc.
When it comes to exercising the most important thing is to find an activity that you enjoy something you look forward to doing.
It is not fun, rewarding or sustainable for anyone to do something they hate every day. By choosing something you genuinely enjoy you are much more likely to stick with it long term!