"If exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever invented," says Dr Nick Cavill, a health promotion consultant. This quote appears on the NHS website, and it really captures just how essential exercise is to overall health. Some forms of exercise do require some financial investment (but given all the crap we spend money on – shouldn’t spending money on our health be an easy decision?!) but others are completely free! I’m pretty confident that we all know on some level that exercise is good for us, but many people aren’t aware of some of the more specific benefits of exercise on their health. Because of this, I’ve set out below an overview of some of the benefits of exercise in case you need convincing!
Exercise has been shown to reduce your risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer by up to 50% and lower your risk of early death by up to 30%. Additionally, exercise can boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing your risk of stress, depression, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
The following are all benefits of exercise on health and well-being that are listed on the NHS website and supported by medical studies:
· up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke; · up to a 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes; · up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer; · up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer; · a 30% lower risk of early death; · up to an 83% lower risk of osteoarthritis; · up to a 68% lower risk of hip fracture; · a 30% lower risk of falls (among older adults); · up to a 30% lower risk of depression; and · up to a 30% lower risk of dementia.
Unfortunately, many of us now live sedentary lifestyles, with technology meaning that we don’t really need to move much. This inactivity has been described by the Department of Health as a silent killer. So how much activity should you be doing to experience health benefits?
According to the NHS, in order to stay healthy, adults should be looking to get 150 minutes of physical activity a week. This includes walking, but ideally you should be performing a variety of activities. In order for the activity to be effective it should be moderately intensive, meaning that it should raise your heart rate, make you breathe faster and make you feel warmer. Ideally, you should be active every day and you should look to minimise the amount of time you are inactive. Things I found useful to help with this when I was working full time as a solicitor were to, every hour (if possible) walk a lap of the floor of the office. I looked a bit weird (one colleague commented that it looked like I was trying to sit on a hedgehog the amount I was standing up, go out for walks at lunch times (even if the weather was horrible – in London it is often horrible), and walk to and from the station rather than get the bus (again, regardless of the weather). Other things you can consider are at-desk stretching, asking your employer about standing desks, and making sure the equipment you work with is set up correctly.
If you want to REALLY maximise the health benefits, you should be looking to include some vigorous exercise into your weekly routine. Vigorous exercise has been shown to provide benefits above and beyond that of medium intensity activity, and is achieved when you're breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite significantly.
There are SO many different ways of getting exercise into your routine, and hopefully this post has highlighted the benefits of doing so. For some more ideas on how to get more active in your daily routine, check out our podcast here!