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A walk in the park
7:00am Saturday 24th September 2011 in NewsXtra
In the light of new, much more achievable Government guidelines for weekly physical exercise, Change4Life and fitness experts talk about how walking the kids to school and regular energetic housework could be enough to meet your recommended exercise quota and officially keep you healthy.
By Lisa Salmon.
If your physical exercise routine never gets beyond weeding the garden every few days, you might still be doing enough to keep healthy.
In the past, official guidelines suggested adults do 30 minutes of physical activity, five or more days a week.
However, this somewhat daunting quota has been updated by the Department of Health.
While still suggesting adults aim for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, experts says these can now be broken up into sessions of 10 minutes or more. And that means easy everyday activities, such as walking the kids to school, or even some energetic housework, all count towards your recommended target.
During these sessions, it's suggested individuals exercise to a manageable level that increases their heart rate and breathing, in order to improve their fitness.
For those who are more energetic, 75 minutes of vigorous activity, such as using a mower or lane swimming, will fulfil their quota.
It's hoped the more flexible guidelines will encourage the 60% of adults who aren't active enough to take more exercise, and thus reap benefits including improved mental health and wellbeing, plus protection against many of the biggest causes of early death, such as heart disease and stroke.
The guidelines are being promoted by the Government's public health programme Change4Life, which also recommends people reduce "unproductive sedentary time", such as watching TV or playing computer games.
Dr Len Almond, director of the British Heart Foundation's National Centre for Physical Activity and Health, helped draw up the new activity quota. He says there was confusion over how rigidly people needed to stick to the old '30 minutes, five days a week' message, and the new advice makes it clearer.
"What we're trying to do is build flexibility in, so people can tot up their 150 minutes in different ways suitable to their lifestyle.
"It means physical activity can slot into everyday routines more easily."
Almond points out that 30 minutes represents a very tiny portion of the day: "When people say they don't have time, they need to remember half an hour equates to 2% of a 24 hour period. And on average, people spend 19.3% of their day in front of a screen," he says.
"The value of physical activity has got to become a priority."
Studies show people are less active at weekends and during holidays than they are during the working week, possibly because they view such times as rest periods when they can recharge their batteries.
Almond adds that 41% of people report they don't have enough energy - yet taking moderate exercise and following the lead of stars like Justin Timberlake, who walks his dogs in the Hollywood Hills, could actually boost energy levels.
He stresses: "Walking every day will give you far more vitality, energy and dynamism than you've ever had before.
"Walking is ideal, because you can fit it into your life very easily."
As part of the drive to highlight the new guidelines, Change4Life is supporting Walk4Life Day on September 25, when a series of mass participation walks are being held throughout the country in a bid to get people active. Former Gladiator Jet, aka Diane Youdale, and TV doctor Chris Steele, are two of those planning to join in.
"You don't have to go to gyms to get fit - walking is free," says Almond. "Additional exercise like swimming or working out is a bonus."
Exercise expert Dr John Buckley, spokesperson for the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES), explains people should aim to expend at least 1,000-1,500 calories of energy per week above their normal resting levels of energy use.
Buckley, who is also president of the British Association for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation, says the new guidelines are about generally getting people fitter.
"If an adult doesn't have enough fitness to walk one mile in less than 17 minutes, it's as bad for their health as smoking 20 per day, being obese, having high cholesterol or high blood pressure," he says.
It's time to up the pace...
The guidelines Lisa Salmon breaks down the latest advice: :: Adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week in sessions of at least 10 minutes.
:: Under-fives should get 180 minutes of physical activity each day.
:: For children over five years and young people, moderate to vigorous physical activity, such as a dance routine, is recommended for at least 60 minutes and up to several hours every day.
The right exercise for you Find out what physical activity would best fit into your day...
:: Adults who choose to be active in small chunks should try walking to work, having a kick about with the kids, or walking the dog each day.
:: For people who like to be active in bigger bursts, workout DVDs or Sunday league football will keep their levels topped up.
:: Some like to exercise as part of a hobby, so gardening, dancing or inline skating could be the right choice.
:: For those who are always on the go, keep an eye on the time spent being active. Activity can be clocked up through walking the kids to school, running for the bus or doing the laundry.
:: For the under-fives, walking to the park instead of riding in the buggy is one of many easy ways to fulfil their quota.
:: For more information on Walk4Life, visit www.walk4life.info
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