Inactivity is as harmful for your health as smoking. Inactivity kills 5.3 million people worldwide each year, the same as smoking, making it one of the biggest avoidable causes of death worldwide, reported the medical journal The Lancet this week.
All of this sounds familiar, but it’s amazing how little most of us choose to do about it. All of us know that we should move more and sit less, yet very few adults get their recommended weekly dose of 150 minutes, or 75 minutes of moderate/vigorous exercise 30 minutes a day, five times a week.
The benefits accrue even if you divide your time into two or three segments of 10-15 minutes per day, yet one in three adults worldwide fails to do the recommended 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity per week.
The outlook for the next generation is bleaker. In the US, one in three children born today is likely to become an obese adult, which is a risk factor for diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Currently, a staggering four out of five 13-15 year olds worldwide do not get the recommended 60 minutes of activity daily, estimates the World Health Organization.
Most people do little more than plan to get more active, some day. “Though it's changing in the metros now, the reality is that most people still begin exercising only after they develop health problems and are advised to do so by their doctors,” says Dr Ravi R Kasliwal, chairman, clinical and preventive cardiology, Medanta-the Medicity.
There’s nothing wrong with going to the gym, of course, but the aim is to encourage everyone to build physical activity into their daily lives, such as by walking, cycling, running, or playing a sport you enjoy. “Vigorous aerobic exercise is a great form of physical activity, you don’t need to visit the gym five times a week to see results. An earlier study in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared the effects of lifestyle activity (walking more, taking the stairs instead of the elevator) to a structured exercise programme (20-60 minutes of aerobic exercise, three-five days a week). After two years, it was found that the two groups had similar improvements in cardiovascular fitness, reduced blood pressure and reduced body fat,” says Dr Kasliwal. So, your first steps toward physical fitness can be as simple as taking the stairs at work or walking to the neighbourhood store instead of driving. It will work, but only if you walk fast enough.
Walking is good enough exercise, but it has to be done at a pace that leaves you breathless without hampering your ability to carry on a conversation while walking. Better still is “jolking”, a combination of jogging and walking, where you intersperse your walk with spurts of running for a minute or so.
Getting active is even more imperative for the health of south Asians, who are at risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks and stroke at a lower body weight than Caucasians. “Heart diseases and strokes cause one in three of all deaths in India. Half an hour of activity along with keeping your weight healthy can help,” says cardiologist Dr Purshotam Lal, chairman, Metro group of hospitals.
But exercise has an added plus. “Even if weight stays the same, physical activity can improve blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels, and lower the risk of death and disability from heart disease,” says Lal.
Hitting the target: Are you exercising hard enough?
There’s a simple way to know:
Calculate and monitor your target heart rate. If your target heart rate is too high, you’re straining and you should slow down.
Your THR is what your pulse rate should be to exercise safely and receive the maximum health benefits. You should maintain this rate for at least 20 minutes at least three times a week.
Checking your THR:
Place the tips of your middle and index fingers in the groove of your throat just to the side of the Adam’s apple.
Count the heartbeats for six seconds and multiply by 10. If you are not within your range, you may need to adjust your workout.
After cooling down, check your pulse rate again. It should be below 100 before you stop moving.
Calculating your THR
Subtract your age from 220, which is the maximum times your heart can beat in one minute. If you are just beginning, your target heart rate should be between 60 to 75% of your maximum heart rate. If it’s too low, you need to push yourself harder. After six months, you can exercise up to 85%.
If you're on prescription medication, ask your doctor if you need to exercise at a lower target heart rate.
Quiz: Am I at risk of a heart attack?