We all know that we need to exercise and be active in order to keep our bodies healthy and strong. But why is it important? How does physical activity help us to stay healthy, and what kind of activities should we do?
The human body was designed for regular physical activity; unfortunately, the majority of people around the world sit for extended periods of time, whether it’s at school or work, in the car, watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the net. Combined with not enough sleep and an abundance of processed food choices, this sedentary lifestyle is to blame for countless health problems including heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
So how do physical activities help us to stay healthy?
• Physical activity helps our hearts to pump blood around our bodies more efficiently. When we are active our heart beats faster – but only up to a certain point – so that it can deliver oxygen-rich blood around our bodies quickly. When we stop being active the muscles need less oxygen so the heart beats slower… which also means there is less blood pumping around each time it beats. This is why a resting heart rate is a good way to measure physical fitness and health status.
• Physical activity strengthens our muscles and bones. When we build muscle, the tissue becomes denser and stronger, helping the body to burn more fat – even when we are sleeping! In addition, when you work your muscles they create an environment in which bone cells form and make them stronger.
• Being physically active helps control our weight. In one study people who were overweight burned about 250 extra calories per day through increased physical activity compared with those of normal weight – this was enough to keep the overweight group from gaining weight over the course of a year!
Not surprisingly then, being inactive or sedentary can cause numerous health problems, including:
• Osteoporosis (weak bones) – especially among postmenopausal women;
• Obesity – which can contribute to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even some cancers; and
• Depression… which leads to people neglecting their physical activity! In fact, a recent study suggests that depression causes inactivity, not the other way round… so if you find yourself feeling down, get off the couch and do something active!
In conclusion, being physically active is one of the best gifts we can give our bodies. We all have different interests and abilities but there are plenty of activities that everyone can enjoy. The following list shows just a few ideas for things you could try:
• Dancing (especially Latin styles like salsa, cha-cha, rumba, samba, etc.) or disco
• Swimming (use the crawl stroke if you are not a strong swimmer)
• Dancing (ballroom or line dancing can be lots of fun!)
• Tai chi or Pilates
• Hiking or climbing hills
• Kickboxing or aerobics
• Martial arts (these are more than just fighting skills – there are many different forms of martial arts that can be both physically and mentally challenging)
Play with your kids! It doesn’t matter if you are old, young, fit, or unfit — playing with your children is probably the best fun you can have and it’s free, healthy, AND good for your children too!
So… make time for physical activity – even if it’s only a little bit each day. If you don’t already do some form of exercise try to build up gradually; you’ll soon feel fitter and healthier if you stick with it. And remember… the best way to help our bodies stay healthy is by simply not sitting still too long!
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