Why exercise & physical activity is so important
Regular physical activity can help to ease back, muscle and joint pain, promotes better sleep, increases energy levels and lowers the risk of developing a number of significant conditions and diseases.
|Conditions||How important is physical activity||What regular physical activity can achieve|
The most common risk factors for developing heart disease in Australia are:
|100,000 people develop diabetes annually in Australia and being physically inactive is a major contributing factor.||
If you already have type 2 diabetes, physical activity can help to improve the body's response to insulin, which can:
|Depression||Research shows regular physical activity of light or moderate intensity can lead to a reduction in the symptoms of depression by up to 50%, especially in women.||
|Osteoporosis & bone health||Women are at a much higher risk than men of developing osteoporosis.||
|Arthritis||Around three million Australians have some form of arthritis.||
Regular light exercise can help to:
|Weight loss||Excess body weight is often a result of too little physical activity.||Even moderate-paced walking (about 5km/h) burns calories and gets your metabolism going.|
Impact & activity
Exercise is often described as 'high impact' where the impact on your body is 2.5 times your body weight such as running, or 'low impact' where movements involve less direct force on the body such as swimming.
This is movement that causes a small increase in your breathing and heart rate – but you should still be able to talk. A walk, mowing the lawn and even vacuuming are examples of moderate activity.
This activity should be enough to make you 'huff and puff'. This is recommended for those who are able, and wish to achieve further health and fitness benefits. Aerobics, competitive sports and running are examples of vigorous activity.
How much physical activity is enough?
The Australian National Physical Activity Guidelines for adults recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week to benefit your health. There are many ways to achieve this, and it isn't as hard, or as time consuming, as you think. According to the guidelines, three 10 minute activity sessions are just as effective as 30 minutes of continuous activity.
Starting an exercise program
If you have a medical condition, are overweight, are pregnant, over 40 years of age or have not exercised regularly for a long time, see a health professional for medical advice before increasing your activity. They can refer you to an accredited exercise physiologist who can help you design an activity plan that is safe and helpful to your individual needs.
In most cases the initial costs of the exercise physiologist will be covered by Medicare.
An accredited exercise physiologist can be located through Exercise & Sports Science Australia.
Planning is essential.
|Schedule it in||
Schedule physical activity into your day:
To get started:
To go to the next level:
|Find others||Exercising with others (friends, family, community, class) helps keep you motivated.|
|Choose what works for you||
Are you going to enjoy doing it and is it:
Try something different: yoga, Pilates, salsa dancing, water aerobics, tai-chi, a local tennis/cricket/netball/soccer club, Ultimate (frisbee), fencing, judo, taekwondo.
|Keep at it||
There may be times where you lose focus because of other priorities, but come back to it, reprioritise to include your exercise plan in your week.
Goals are good focus points and good celebration points. You will need both short and long-term goals. As with all goals:
|Listen to your body||
Exercising is not about 'no pain, no gain'. If an activity causes you pain either slow down or stop altogether. Pain is a sign something might be wrong. If you are worried, see your doctor before continuing.
Enjoyment is essential for maintaining a long-term commitment to being more physically active, so find what works for you: the company, the comfortable clothes, the view as you walk, the music you listen to.
Set some short and long-term goals for yourself. A short-term goal might be to build up to a brisk 30 minute walk every day for a week. A longer-term goal, something you work slowly towards, might be to participate in a fun run or go bushwalking. Try setting goals using a pedometer. Aim for 1,000 extra steps every few days until you reach 8,000 to 10,000 steps per day.
Sticking to the plan
Here are a few ways of overcoming some common barriers to sticking to a new plan.
|Common barrier||What to do|
|I don't have time||
|I'm too tired||
|I'm too old||
|I can't afford it||
Free activities to improve your fitness can be found in the park, your local community centre, with your friends and in your home including walking, dancing to your favourite music or gardening.
|I'm not well||
Ask your health professional or get a referral to an accredited exercise physiologist to get advice on what activities would be of benefit to you.
What about children?
Tools to help
Using pedometers and heart rate monitors as tools to assist your physical activity program are a great idea. They are affordable and user friendly, in most cases the cheapest base models will provide all the features you will need.
Pedometers come in a range of models starting at around $20 for a base model and can reach nearly $50 for the advanced models. They are available from many sports stores and pharmacies.
- First measure your daily steps
- Set goals to increase your steps (no more than 10% a week)
- If you average 6,000 steps per day then the following week try to average 6,600 steps a day
Heart rate monitor
Heart rate monitors are another great tool for monitoring exercise. But you will need to become familiar with important bits of information before using them. They range in price from $70 to as much as $1,000, depending on the additional features.
The heart rate monitor measures how fast your heart is beating and allows you to keep the rate in specific zones for the duration of your exercise. These are available from good sports stores.
All you need is a chest strap and watch, which have some simple features that are easy to use. Take the time to read the instructions, but the basic approach is:
- enter your personal information: weight, height and age
- place the chest strap around your chest and ensure the electrodes have good skin contact – the strap should fit just below the bra line or even under your bra if comfortable
- you then start the wrist watch and it will begin recording and showing your heart rate
If you are at rest, expect to see numbers between 45-70 beats per minute. These will increase as you start to become active.
For heart rate monitors to be useful you need to work out some heart rate zones that will be equivalent to light, moderate and vigorous activities. This is done by first estimating your maximum heart rate using a simple formula of 220 minus your age. For example, if you are 25 your maximum heart rate would be 195. Next, for each light, moderate and vigorous activity multiply your maximum heart rate by the % range. For example, for light activity 50-65% of a maximum heart rate of 195 is 98-127. See below for more calculations:
|Estimating heart rate zones||% of maximum heart rate||What the beats per minute would be for each zone based on a maximum heart rate of 195|
|Vigorous activity||80-100%||156 -195|
Now that you know what heart rates are needed to be achieved to meet your exercise intensities, you are ready to get active. Heart rate monitors can be used for all physical activities as they are water proof.
Weekly activity diary
A weekly activity diary helps you become more aware of your activity needs and the importance of not trying to fit too much in.
How to use the weekly activity diary:
- Print out the weekly activity diary and fill in the first table with your current usual weekly activities.
- Now go back over it and mark the activities you:
- 'have to do' with an H
- 'should do' with an S
- 'would like to do' with a W
- Is there something missing, such as time out for you? Make a list of things you would like to do for yourself, no matter how big or small
- Now look at the H's, S's and W's and prioritise them, starting with the most important down to the least
- On a new weekly activity sheet put in the top 5 activities for each group PLUS 5 things from your list of things to do for yourself
- Practise your new weekly activity sheet – fine-tune where needed
Making the most of your everyday activities
Often people struggle to come up with ideas to get physically active and can become bored with just a single activity. Think of movement as an opportunity, not an inconvenience. In the table below are some ideas to get physically active at home, out and about, at a local recreational/fitness centre and at the office.
|Where||Type of activity||What to try|
|Local area||Walking to and around local parks||
|Walking around your neighbourhood||
|Out and about||Everyday opportunities that increase how much you exercise||
|Home fitness equipment||Walking with a pedometer||Clip on a pedometer to measure how many steps you take per day and aim for 10,000 steps each day.|
|Fit ball exercises||Put a fit ball near a television, so you can do some simple activities that can give your whole body a workout while getting your daily TV fix.|
|Hand weights exercises||Use hand weights to strengthen your upper body while watching TV.|
|Treadmills/bikes/cross-trainers/rowing machines||Install one in your home and you can walk, run or ride (and watch TV) at any time of the day and in any weather (however, they are not always cheap).|
|Local sports and recreation centres||Pool activities||
|Fitness centre – group classes||
|Fitness centre – individual sessions||
If you feel a bit intimidated:
|Social team sports||
|Other group activities||
Activities to relax & strengthen you
Different activities suit different women and there are no right or wrong activities.
Walking is one of the most popular and achievable forms of physical activity. "Surveys show that women prefer walking over all other activities and when they walk with friends they walk longer and report walking is more enjoyable," says dietitian Cate Lombard. "Set a time and place to meet each week – rain, hail or shine – and make the effort to turn up. Group activities are more social and you can encourage each other to keep going."
The following are suggestions for other activities you might like to try (if you haven't already).
|Type of activity||Helps to||What you can try|
|Deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation||
Deep breathing – a simple but powerful relaxation technique that:
Progressive muscle relaxation – you learn to feel the difference between tension and relaxation and can recognise the first signs of muscular tension by progressively tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body
|Meditation and mindfulness||
Focus awareness of how you're feeling right now and keep in the present.
Last updated 25 September 2017 — Last reviewed 17 February 2014
** Currently under review **
This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at February 2014.