“I am quite active during the day, is this enough to keep me healthy/fit?”
You have probably heard that as we get older, we need to stay active (if you haven’t, then there are plenty of blog posts on this site referencing the benefits!).
But how ‘active’ do we need to be? And, what is the difference between being physically active and exercising?
The physical activity guidelines
An international bunch of brilliantly intelligent people meet yearly to review academic research on exercise and health. From this meeting, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reviews its recommendations for exercise and physical activity. Individual countries then take this information to inform their national guidelines.
In Australia, the physical activity and exercise guidelines for older adults (those over the age of 65) are as follows:
- 30-minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days (ideally every day)
- Strength/ resistance exercise 2-3x per week, separated by 24-48 hours (body weight or gym based)
- Balance and flexibility exercises as required
- If the amounts recommended are not attainable, something is better than nothing
According to Exercise and Sports Science Australia, the most recent available data indicates that only 17% of older Australians consistently achieve the above recommendations; if you’re in this 17%, great job! If not, keep reading to understand physical activity and exercise better.
Physical activity vs exercise
Is there a difference between physical activity and exercise? The answer is “yes”!
Reading some of the literature can be confusing as the distinction between the two can sometimes be unclear. So let’s have a look at them.
Physical activity = general movement and activity with NO specific structure. This could be walking around the shops, gardening, or getting up to make dinner. It is general movement and activity that takes place as part of our everyday routine. Some individuals will do a large amount of physical activity each day, while others will do less, even if the task is the same. For example, gardening for one person might mean pruning a couple of small roses, compared to another person who might be mowing multiple lawns.
Exercise = voluntary, planned and structured movement. The task usually has a desired response based on the type and intensity of the task. For example, going for a 30-minute walk at an intensity that causes some shortness of breath will predominantly benefit your heart, lungs and circulation. In comparison, stretching exercises are designed to improve your flexibility.
How much exercise do I need to do?
Most of us do not do enough physical activity at the required moderate intensity most days to meet the minimum guidelines.
A typical example I see is clients who go to the supermarket twice a week; this activity causes shortness of breath and tiredness. But what about the other five days? Or, what if you want to be able to walk around the supermarket, but an injury or your current fitness stops you?
If you are one of the rare few who still have a very active lifestyle by default, then you should keep doing what you are doing. But, for 99% of us, building an exercise routine that helps us to meet the minimum guidelines (ideally surpass them) is helpful.
I’m too old, or I can’t do the required amount
Aah, the ‘elephant in the room’! It is important to understand you are NEVER too old to start something.
If you are 90 years old and beginning an exercise routine, you have to accept that you won’t be performing at the same level as the 20-year-old version of yourself, but it’s not a reason to avoid it. If you are currently doing nothing or very little, you will see the most improvement from doing something.
Ideally, you build up to the recommended amount, but you will still see benefits even if you can only manage 10% of the recommended amount.
You can’t manage what you don’t measure
The research trends show that most of us overestimate how much we move (this is true for children to older adults when comparing perceived estimates vs activity tracking data).
Make a start by measuring the amount of physical activity and exercise you do daily for a few weeks. You can do this via an activity tracker or write it down. Compare your results to the guidelines.
If you identify a gap, add a little more activity each day, or consult a health professional to help you build a routine that can work for you.
The Physio Co’s team of physiotherapists are available to visit you wherever you call home, and available for online consultations. We are here to help, so get in touch today for more information – please call on 1300 797 793 or email [email protected]
Article written by Mike Quinn, TPC Ops Guy (Adelaide)