The term “physical activity” refers to a wide range of activities and movements, including activities of daily living, such as walking, gardening, heavy housework, or dancing. “Exercise” is also a type of physical activity, and refers to planned, structured and repetitive body movements, with the purpose of improving or maintaining one or more aspects of physical health, Dr. Sergio Schlimovich, a medical specialist, confirmed to AIM. in Endocrinology and Metabolism and an expert in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
However, the professional clarified that there is widespread public and media coverage of the health benefits of regular physical exercise; “sedentary lifestyle” is growing in the general population, and hardly anyone escapes this trend.
In dialogue with this Agency, the expert explained that “physical exercise is an activity that all human beings carry out to different degrees during our existence. The inclination to exercise is a natural tendency that has a purely affective component that produces pleasure. Furthermore, exercise maintains body agility and exerts a profound psychological and social influence, but its deficiency predisposes to numerous diseases. However, it must be borne in mind that, although exercise favors physical and mental health, and lack of activity is harmful, so is excess”.
Despite all the proven benefits of physical activity on health, a sedentary lifestyle is still very important among the populations of different countries. The conveniences that modern life brings lead people to adopt less active lifestyles by reducing the duration and intensity of their daily movements.
On the other hand, most of the work tasks are not related to active exercises, not to mention the work pressure that increasingly limits the free time available, and the great technical advances tend to favor the lack of physical activity. People travel by car or bus and watch television or sit in front of their computer for much of the day. All this has led today’s man to a progressive distancing from physical activity that needs to be reversed.
Physical exercise generates well-being, prevents and improves health problems
Anyone who has done or does physical exercise on a regular basis knows very well the “feeling of well-being” that it provides. Physical exercise decreases the state of emotional tension produced by the excess of the main stress hormone (distress), which is cortisol, and increases other substances known as endorphins, which make you feel good. Endorphins are opiate neurotransmitters that are produced in the brain, and their effect is similar to that of opium, the drug that can be obtained from poppies, and they act as natural pain relievers (but obviously without the negative effects of drugs).
Schlimovich specified that “during exercise, endorphins are released that produce a feeling of euphoria and a general state of well-being. These endorphins can be so powerful that they can even mask pain. But these are not the only substances that are at stake in physical exercise, other hormones and neurotransmitters such as adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine also interact, which enhance and improve the state of well-being.
Physical exercise is one of the fundamental factors of health promotion as well as the prevention of many diseases. Its regular practice, allows to generate adaptations in different systems such as cardiopulmonary and musculoskeletal, to improve the condition and function of the organism. Physical, psychological and social benefits have been attributed to exercise in children, adolescents, adults and the elderly; in healthy and sick people; in schools and companies. “Scientific evidence shows important benefits that link physical activity with improved health,” explained Schlimovich, noting that, therefore, “people who have risk factors for a certain disease or if it is already installed, regular physical exercise represents an invaluable therapeutic resource”.
The main benefits described are the reduction of body weight, decrease in the rate of various diseases (cardiovascular conditions, high blood pressure, cerebrovascular accident (CVA), obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and other lipids, osteoporosis, etc.), and decrease of the risk of some types of cancer (lung, colon, breast, and multiple myeloma). To achieve health benefits, exercise must be practiced regularly and be suitable for each person. The recommended activities are aerobic and recreational activities such as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or dancing.
The best time to exercise
Starting the day with physical exercises has many advantages and some disadvantages. The best thing is that the body is rested and we are in better physical condition, and that energy that is felt after physical exercise lasts a few hours. The body generates endorphins and nitric oxide (a natural vasodilator) that contribute to a good mood and distress situations have less impact. “If we wait until the end of the day to do physical activity, the benefit of the mood effect is lost. The disadvantage of morning exercise is that the body temperature is low and the muscles have been asleep for hours, and the risk of injury increases if a correct stretch is not carried out.
It’s often hard to get off to a good early start, and on the other hand, cortisol is at the top of its morning peak and this can cause increased fatigue.
The professional added that numerous studies indicate that sunset is the best time to perform physical exercises. “During this period of the day, between 4 and 5 p.m., the body temperature is at its highest point, and the muscles are better prepared to face the exertion of exercise. In addition, strength, anaerobic performance and endurance also improve at this time of day.”
For adults and the elderly, the hours between 7 pm and 9 pm represent the best time to maintain a good level of growth hormone. “This hormone fulfills important functions in people, but it is different according to age. While in childhood and adolescence its main action is to make organs and tissues grow; in adulthood, its main effect is the maintenance of the function of these organs and tissues as well as the maintenance of the repair systems. It turns out that with age this hormone gradually decreases its concentration in the body, and vigorous nocturnal physical exercise manages to stimulate the growth hormone axis, minimizing its decline with aging”, assured the doctor.
The levels of physical activity required to maintain good health do not necessarily have to be high intensity; on the contrary, moderate regular physical exercises are the most effective in maintaining good physical condition. Therefore, you don’t need to be trained like an athlete to achieve results, and sedentary people can improve their fitness by starting with short bursts of light exercise until they reach a desired pace. The first thing in an inactive person is to start moving, even if he only does it for a few minutes a day; Perhaps, this is the most important point to start a lifestyle change in physical activity.
There is no doubt that the best recommendation to be healthy and long-lived is the scheduled practice of some regular physical exercise. It is always advisable to carry out a prior evaluation of physical fitness and then prescribe a training plan by a professional, which will be progressive and appropriate for each particular case. However, for one reason or another, not everyone can manage to incorporate a regular physical exercise program into their lifestyle, but it is possible to increase daily physical activity to get away from a sedentary lifestyle. For them, here are little tips to make physical activity a part of life:
• Walk instead of using means of transport: if we use public transport, get off a couple of stops before our destination. Use the car or other motorized vehicle less and, when we do, try to park it in a place further away than usual.
• Take two minutes every hour at work or at home to “stretch your legs” and mobilize your muscles.
• Take advantage of leisure time to mobilize the joints with low-intensity exercises.
• Take a short walk before breakfast or dinner (or both).
• Trade 10 minutes of television for a couple of laps around the block.
• Walk or bike to do simple everyday purchases.
• Take the dog for a walk every day (of course if we have the pet).
• When walking, try to gradually speed up your pace. If possible, choose paths with ups and downs (it is easy to find them in Entre Ríos).
• When we watch television, try to do it sitting down instead of lying down or stretched out in an armchair. Having the remote control far away to mobilize when we want to change the channel (it is not so easy if we usually zap).
• Talk on the phone standing up, with minimal movement, instead of sitting down.
• Do things for oneself. Let’s not ask them to bring us something, we have to look for it.
• If work allows, take a break (lunch time, for example) and use 10 minutes to walk briskly.
From the AIM Newsroom