Empowering Physical Health Through Exercise

Alternaleaf Team
Written by
Alternaleaf Team
May 22, 2024
Last updated:
May 22, 2024

One of our most powerful tools in physical health lies not in a pill bottle or a doctor's office but in moving our bodies. Yep, we’re talking about everyone’s favourite topic: EXERCISE! 

Yet, despite the undeniable benefits exercise can bring to our lives, it’s often overlooked as a preventive measure. 

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the impact of physical inactivity on our health is staggering. Their report reveals that even just 15 minutes of additional physical activity each day can help prevent the associated disease burden of physical inactivity. 

By expanding our understanding of the role exercise plays in disease prevention and actively promoting its benefits, we can shift the perception surrounding exercise from merely a tool for weight management and fitness to a cornerstone of preventive healthcare.

Unveiling the True Impact of Inactivity

Understanding how physical inactivity affects our health is crucial for tackling big health problems in Australia. 

The Toll on Total Disease Burden

Let's delve into some eye-opening statistics to see just how severe this issue is:

  • In 2011, physical inactivity contributed to 2.6% of the total disease burden.
  • If everyone added just 15 minutes of brisk walking to their routine five days a week, we could reduce physical inactivity-related sickness by 13%.
  • Physical inactivity accounts for 10–20% of the burden for related diseases.
  • People in the lowest socioeconomic group face a physical inactivity burden 1.7 times higher than those in the highest socioeconomic group.

These statistics highlight the urgent need to address physical inactivity as a preventive measure against chronic diseases.

How Physical Inactivity Impacts Disease

Additionally, this study linked physical inactivity to seven diseases, contributing significantly to the total disease burden in Australia:

  • 19% for diabetes
  • 16% for bowel cancer
  • 16% for uterine cancer
  • 14% for dementia
  • 11% for breast cancer 
  • 11% for coronary heart disease
  • 10% for stroke

These statistics aren't just numbers—they represent real people impacted by physical inactivity. Behind each percentage is a story of someone battling a chronic illness that could have been prevented or mitigated with regular physical activity. 

By understanding the profound connection between physical inactivity and disease, we can better appreciate the urgency of promoting active lifestyles for the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities alike.

Physical Activity in Australia: Statistics and Guidelines

But what about when we do get moving? Let's delve into the statistics around physical activity from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and explore the recommended physical activity guidelines for different age groups.

Current Physical Activity Trends

According to the latest ABS data, nearly one in four (23.9%) people aged 15 years and over met the physical activity guidelines. While this indicates that a significant portion of the population is getting enough physical activity, there is still room for improvement.

One concerning trend highlighted by the ABS is that almost half (46.9%) of employed adults aged 18–64 described their typical workday as mostly sedentary (being inactive or spending too much time sitting down).

Guidelines for Different Age Groups

Physical activity guidelines vary across age groups. Here's an overview of the recommended physical activity levels:

For Ages 5–17:

  • Physical Activity: Children and adolescents (teenagers) should get at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.
  • Strength and Toning: Three days or more per week.

For Ages 18–64:

  • Physical Activity: Adults within this age range should aim for 150–300 minutes per week of moderate physical activity, 75–150 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity, or a combination of both.
  • Strength and Toning: At least twice a week.

For Ages 65 and Older:

  • Physical Activity: Older adults are encouraged to engage in 30 minutes or more of physical activity most days of the week. This can include completing 30 minutes or more of physical activity five days per week and engaging in any physical activity on all seven days.
  • Strength and Toning: Whenever possible to maintain muscle strength and mobility.

Types of Physical Activity

Physical activity comes in various forms and takes place in different settings, including at home, at work, outdoors or at a dedicated sports and fitness centre. Here are the types of physical activity recognised by the guidelines:

  • Moderate Activity: Brisk walking, strength or toning exercises, lifting light objects, or performing household chores. This type of activity causes a mild increase in heart rate or breathing, promoting overall health and fitness.
  • Vigorous Activity: Activities like playing basketball, running, or engaging in intense workouts. Vigorous activity leads to a significant increase in heart rate or breathing, providing more intense cardiovascular benefits.
  • Strength or Toning Exercises: These involve lifting weights, resistance training, yoga, or pilates. They focus on building muscle strength, improving flexibility, and enhancing overall body composition.

By combining these activity types into daily routines, individuals can achieve optimal health outcomes and reduce the risk of chronic diseases associated with physical inactivity.

Activating Health: The Transformative Power of Exercise

Regular physical activity isn't just about building muscles or losing weight; it's a cornerstone of preventive healthcare and disease management. Here's how exercise works its magic:

Strengthening the Heart: Cardiovascular Benefits

Aerobic exercises like walking, jogging, or swimming get the heart pumping, can improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Plus, exercise helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglycerides, keeping the heart strong and resilient.

Balancing Blood Sugar: Diabetes Management

Exercise plays a crucial role in managing blood sugar levels for individuals with diabetes or at risk of developing the condition. Physical activity enhances insulin sensitivity, allowing cells to absorb glucose more effectively and reducing the need for medication.

Boosting Immunity: Guarding Against Disease

Regular exercise strengthens the immune system, making it more resilient against infections and chronic illnesses. It promotes the circulation of immune cells in the body, enhances antibody response, and reduces inflammation, guarding against diseases like cancer and autoimmune disorders.

Elevating Mood: Mental Health and Wellness

Exercise is a powerful antidote to stress, anxiety, and depression. It releases endorphins that elevate mood and promote relaxation. It fosters a sense of empowerment and control, which is essential for managing chronic conditions.

Enhancing Every Facet: Overall Wellbeing

Exercise contributes to overall wellbeing by improving sleep quality, increasing energy levels, and enhancing cognitive function. It fosters resilience, adaptability, and a positive outlook on life, essential qualities for navigating the challenges of chronic conditions.

Take Charge: Five Steps to Active Living

With this knowledge, individuals can take proactive steps to incorporate exercise into their daily lives and reap the health benefits. It's not about striving for perfection or adhering to rigid workout routines; instead, it's about finding joy and meaning in movement, whatever form it may take.

Here are five practical tips for integrating exercise into daily life:

1. Start Slow: Begin Your Journey

Begin with small, manageable steps such as taking short walks or doing gentle stretching exercises. Gradually increase the intensity and duration as your fitness improves. For example, start with a 10-minute walk around your neighbourhood and gradually add a few minutes each week til you reach that 15-minute mark. Don’t be afraid to go further, though—every extra bit of exercise counts towards your overall health and fitness.

2. Find Your Passion: Make Exercise Enjoyable

Exercise doesn't have to feel like a chore. Find activities that bring you pleasure and fulfilment, whether dancing to your favourite music, gardening in your backyard, or hiking in nature. Choosing activities you enjoy makes you more likely to stick with them in the long run.

3. Share the Joy: Exercise Together

Exercising can be more fun and motivating with friends, family, or like-minded individuals. Consider joining group classes at your local gym or community centre or organising outdoor activities with friends, such as group hikes or bike rides. In Australia, running clubs are soaring in popularity, with the "SoSo's" running club based in the northern suburbs of Brisbane, growing from a group of twelve to 500 runners in February 2024. While you certainly don’t need a group of hundreds to exercise together, having a support system can help keep you accountable and motivated. 

4. Listen to Your Body: Honoring Your Limits

Pay attention to how your body feels during and after exercise. It's essential to push yourself, but it's also important to know and respect your limits. If you feel pain or discomfort, adjust your workout routine accordingly or take a rest day. Remember, consistency and listening to your body's signals are key.

5. Celebrate Progress: Milestones Along the Way

Every step forward, no matter how small, is worth celebrating. Acknowledge and celebrate your achievements, whether completing a challenging workout, reaching a personal milestone, or simply sticking to your weekly exercise routine. By focusing on the positive changes you're making for your health, you'll stay motivated and inspired to continue your journey towards a healthier, happier you.

Embracing the Exercise Revolution

Exercise emerges as a formidable ally in the fight against chronic diseases, offering myriad benefits for both body and mind. By embracing physical activity as a fundamental aspect of healthcare, individuals can seize control of their health destiny, diminishing the burden of chronic illness and reclaiming vitality and resilience. Let's embrace the transformative power of exercise to thrive and flourish, one step at a time.

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