For most middle-aged Canadians, job pressures and family responsibilities make finding time and energy for regular exercise a low priority. Recent surveys show more than half of Canadian adults are simply not active enough.
It is never too late to improve your physical activity level. The good news is that recommended activities are much more flexible than they were 20 years ago. Structured, vigorous physical activity is not the only way to gain health benefits. Gone are the days of ‘go hard or go home.’ Today’s motto for physical activity and exercise is ‘go moderately and go regularly.’
Health Canada now promotes ‘Active Living’ to encourage increased physical activity. Active living means incorporating more body movement in your regular daily activities. The most effective way to improve your health is to lead an active life and become a ‘moderate mover.’
You can increase your present activity level without adopting a rigid exercise routine.
Now that you have decided to increase your activity level, it is important to know how much is enough. Canada’s Physical Activity Guide recommends that, on most days of the week, we try to build up a total of 30 to 60 minutes per day of extra ‘moderate’ physical activity. For those who enjoy more vigorous activity, this can be reduced to 30 minutes, four times per week.
During moderate activity, you can still talk but the activity feels somewhat difficult. Moderate activities include walking, social dance, and gardening. Vigorous activities include running, or games that involve a lot of movement. Vigorous activities feel hard, and sometimes can leave you breathless. The 30 to 60 minute total can also be done in 10 minute segments spaced throughout the day. For instance, take a 10 minute morning walk, climb the stairs for 10 minutes while doing laundry, and do 10 minutes of gardening. Together, this adds up to 30 minutes of moderate activity.
Your activities should involve a mixture of three components of fitness: endurance, strength and flexibility. Endurance is built through continuous activities like walking, swimming, and cross-country skiing. Strength activities reinforce muscles and bones and improve balance and posture. Gardening, snow shoveling, and carrying groceries will all build strength. Flexibility activities, like stretching and reaching, keep muscles and joints mobile and help prevent injury.
There are several ways you can improve your success with regular physical activity.
Make it fun. Research shows people continue with activities that are meaningful and fun, and result in a feeling of well-being. Think recreation, not exercise. Most Canadians 45 to 64 years old prefer informal activities such as walking, gardening, swimming, social dance, home exercise or golf. You are much more likely to stick with an activity that you enjoy and find fun, or which allows you the opportunity to socialize.
Enlist social support. One of the most successful ways to get and stay active is to have an activity buddy. For some, this may mean joining a fitness class, while for others it may mean walking with a good friend. Whatever you prefer, a partner in exercise will keep exercise fun and help you stay motivated.
Start out easy. Are you new to exercise? Start with one small change to your lifestyle and build on your success. You are more likely to drop out if you begin with increased intensity, so start off easy. Remember too that unfit bodies are more easily injured. If you have been inactive for the past several years, don’t start with activities involving fast movements and jumping.
Cost and access. Find something you can do close to home. It’s all right to drive to a fitness class but you could spend that half hour walking instead. Seek out accessible summer and winter activities that you can afford. Make exercise equipment a priority. For about $40, you can buy anti-slip grips for your shoes that make walking outdoors in winter safer. If you live in the country, consider buying cross-country skis or lightweight snowshoes for winter exploration.
Expect lapses. There will be times when you are unable to be as active as you would like. It doesn’t mean you have failed. Nobody is perfect. Just get back to it as soon as you can.
Before starting any new program, visit your family doctor. Your doctor can help determine your present level of health and how other medical conditions might influence the type of activity you choose. Ask your doctor for advice and about the Go For Green prescription (www.goforgreen.ca), a program encouraging physical activity sponsored by the College of Family Physicians of Canada. The Canada Physical Activity Guide is another good source of information. It can be downloaded from the Internet (www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/pau-uap/paguide/) or picked up at your local health unit.
You may want further guidance or an exercise program developed just for you. Visit your local recreation centre or fitness club and contact a certified fitness instructor. For a small fee you can take part in an exercise class led by a professional or get a personalized activity program.
There is no greater investment in your future health than increasing your activity level. It doesn’t matter what you do to become a ‘moderate mover’ – as long as you do it regularly!