Regular physical activity is an important contributor to good overall health, including promoting healthy weight and reducing the risk of chronic disease. Not being active enough contributes to disease and mortality across the globe. It is estimated that inactivity is the main cause for approximately 21–25% of breast and colon cancers, 27% of diabetes and 30% of ischemic heart disease burden.
The 2013 Australian Health Survey reports 60% of Australian adults did less than the recommended 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per day. Adults who participated in a pedometer study recorded an average of 7,400 steps per day. Less than one in five adults (19%) recorded the recommended 10,000 steps per day on average which is needed to achieve health benefits.
Physical activity recommendations are relevant to everyone. Unless specific medical conditions indicate the contrary, physical activity guidelines apply to all people, irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity or income level. They also apply to individuals with or without a chronic disease or disability. Regular physical activity helps to maintain a healthy body. Participating in regular physical activity can:
- improve muscular and cardiovascular fitness
- improve posture, mobility and balance
- improve bone health
- assist with sleep difficulties
- lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancer
- lower the risk of falling and of hip or vertebral fractures
- help to maintain a healthy weight
- help to prevent and manage mental health problems
- create opportunities for socialising and meeting new people.
Both moderate and vigorous intensity physical activity bring health benefits. Intensity refers to the rate at which the activity is being performed. It can be thought of as "how hard a person works to do the activity". Intensity depends on an individual's relative level of fitness. Examples of moderate physical activity are brisk walking, dancing or household chores. Examples of vigorous physical activity are running, fast cycling, fast swimming or moving heavy loads.
Doing some physical activity is better than none. Research shows that those who increase activity levels from nothing to something gain the most health benefits. The more active people become, the more health benefits will be gained, however it will be proportionally harder to gain more health benefits when people are very active. For optimal health benefits you should participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week. Inactive people are best to start with small amounts of physical activity and gradually increase duration, frequency and intensity over time. Inactive adults, older adults and those with disease limitations will have added health benefits when becoming more active.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013) indicate that only 35.2% of Australians are of normal weight and 62.8% and overweight or obese. Ensuring that you are within a healthy weight range is one way to reduce your risk of chronic disease, however your level of fitness is also very important.
Source: Global Health Risks: mortality ad burden of disease attributable to selected major risks. World Health Organization, 2009.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2013 - Australian Health Survey: Physical Activity, 2011-12. ABS Catalogue number 4364.0.55.004.
Loprinzi, P.D., Lee, H., & Cardinal, B.J. (2013). Dose response association between physical activity and biological, demographic, and perceptions of health variables. Obesity Facts: The European Journal of Obesity, Vol. 6, 380-392.