Fitness Month: The benefits of physical activity

  • Published
  • By Stuart Bapties
  • Robins Public Affairs

May is National Physical Activity Month, and while it’s no secret that regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health we can all use a reminder of just what the exact benefits are. 

Regular physical activity can help:

· Manage weight

· Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease

· Reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome

· Reduce the risk of some cancers

· Strengthen muscles and bone

· Improve mood and mental health

· Improve the ability to do daily activities and prevent falls, if you're an older adult

Increase the chances of living longer

If you're worried about becoming active or boosting physical activity because you're afraid of getting hurt, the good news is that moderately-intense aerobic activity, like brisk walking, is generally safe for most people but, here are a couple of things to remember when starting out:

Start slow.  Cardiac events, such as a heart attack, are rare during physical activity but, the risk does go up when you suddenly become much more active than usual.  For example, you can put yourself at risk if you aren’t usually physical active and then all of a sudden start off with vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, like shoveling snow.  That's why it's important to start slow and gradually increase your level of activity.

If you have a chronic health issue such as arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease, talk with your doctor to find out if your condition limits your ability to be active. Then, work with your doctor to come up with a physical activity plan that matches your abilities. If your condition stops you from meeting the minimum guidelines, ask your doctor how much is safe for you and try to do as much as you can. What's important is that you avoid being inactive because even as little as 60 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity is good for you. Generally speaking, the health benefits of physical activity far outweigh the risks.

So now let’s talk about the ways that physical activity improves your health by reviewing a synopsis of information from both the National Institute of Health and the National Physical Activity Society:

Physical Activity Helps Manage Weight

Are you looking to get to or stay at a healthy weight?  Good nutrition and physical activity play a critical role in weight control. You gain weight when the calories you burn are less than the calories you consume.  For more information talk with your doctor or stop by the Health Promotions Office to explore one of our free Body Composition Improvement programs and tools.  Remember, when it comes to weight management, it’s not one size fits all; people vary greatly in how much physical activity they need depending on their goals and you may need to be more active than others to achieve or maintain a healthy weight based on other factors.

To maintain your weight: Work your way up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent mix of the two each week. Strong scientific evidence shows that physical activity can  help you maintain your weight over time. 

To lose weight and keep it off: You’ll need a high amount of physical activity unless you also adjust your diet and reduce the amount of calories you're eating and drinking. Getting to and staying at a healthy weight requires both regular physical activity and a healthy eating plan. While physical activity is important for maintenance, nutrition is even more important. The Health Promotions Office has tools and information about nutrition, physical activity and weight loss. Give us a call at 478-327-8480 or stop by and ask about our Performance Nutrition and Better Body Better Life Programs.  

Physical activity helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease

Heart disease and stroke are two of the leading causes of death in the United States but getting at least 150 minutes a week (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity can put you at a lower risk for these diseases. You can reduce your risk further with even more physical activity.  Regular physical activity can also lower your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol levels and you know what?  There is a class for that as well, taught by our disease management nurses at the 78th Medical Group so call the Health Promotions Office for dates and times.

Physical Activity helps reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome

Regular physical activity can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.  Metabolic syndrome is a condition in which you have some combination of too much fat around the waist, high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides or high blood sugar.  Research shows that lower rates of these conditions are seen with 120 to 150 minutes (2 hours to 2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of at least moderate-intensity aerobic activity and the more physical activity you do, the lower your risk will be.

Already have type 2 diabetes? Regular physical activity and proper nutrition can help control your blood glucose levels. To find out more, enroll in one of the monthly Diabetic Nutrition classes through the Health Promotions Office.

Physical Activity helps reduce the risk some cancers

Being physically active lowers your risk for colon and breast cancer. Research shows that:

· Physically active people have a lower risk of colon cancer than people who are not active.

· Physically active people have a lower risk of breast cancer than people who are not active.

· Physical activity may help reduce your risk of endometrial and lung cancer. Although the research is not yet final, some findings suggest that your risk of endometrial cancer and lung cancer may be lower if you get regular physical activity compared to people who are not active.

Improve your quality of life. If you are a cancer survivor, research shows that getting regular physical activity not only helps give you a better quality of life, but also improves your physical fitness.

Physical activity helps strengthen muscle and bones

As we age, it's important to protect bones, joints and muscles because they not only support our bodies and help us move, but keeping bones, joints and muscles healthy can help ensure that you're able to do daily activities and be physically active. 

Research shows that doing aerobics, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening physical activity of at least a moderately-intense level can slow the loss of bone density that comes with age. 

Regular physical activity helps with arthritis and other conditions affecting the joints. If you have arthritis, research shows that doing 130 to 150 (2 hours and 10 minutes to 2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity, low-impact aerobic activity can not only improve your ability to manage pain and do everyday tasks, it can also make your quality of life better. 

Regular physical activity builds strong, healthy muscles. Muscle-strengthening activities can help you increase or maintain your muscle mass and strength while slowly increasing the amount of weight and number of repetitions you do gives you even more benefits, no matter what your age is.

Physical activity helps improve mood and mental health

Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning and judgment skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression and may help you sleep better.  Research has shown that doing aerobics or a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities 3 to 5 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes can give you these mental health benefits.

Physical activity helps improve the ability to do everyday activities and prevent falls

A functional limitation is a loss of the ability to do everyday activities such as climbing stairs, grocery shopping or playing with children. 

If you're a physically active middle-aged or older adult, you have a lower risk of functional limitations than people who are inactive and if you are already having trouble doing some of your everyday activities, aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities can help improve your ability to do these types of tasks.  If you are you an older adult who is at risk for falls doing balance and muscle-strengthening activities each week along with moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking, can help reduce your risk of falling.

Physical activity helps increase the chance of living longer

Physical activity can reduce your risk of dying early from the leading causes of death, like heart disease and some cancers and is a lifestyle choice that has a large impact on your health. 

People who are physically active for about seven hours a week have a 40 percent lower risk of dying early than those who are active for less than 30 minutes a week.

If you don’t think that’s where you are at yet, keep in mind that you don't have to do high amounts of activity or vigorous-intensity activity to reduce your risk of premature death; you can lower your risk of dying early by doing at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.

Everyone can gain the health benefits of physical activity - age, ethnicity, shape or size don’t matter, so, take advantage of all the activities and facilities at Robins Air Force Base. Whether it’s bowling or golfing, hitting the gym or pool at the fitness center, participating in intramural sports activities, or using the 5K nature trail while participating in fun runs and Health Promotions/ Fitness Center events, there is sure to be something for everyone. 

For more information call the Health Promotions Office at 478-327-8480.