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Preventing Chronic Diseases by Remaining Physically Active

-By Ibrahim Suleiman PhD

Regular exercise and physical activity are critically important for your health and well being. The term “physical activity” should not be confused with “exercise”, which is a subcategory of physical activity that is planned, structured, repetitive, and aims to improve or maintain one or more components of physical fitness. Beyond exercise, any other physical activity that is done during leisure time, for transport to get to and from places, or as part of a person’s work, has a health benefit.

According to WHO, 1 in every 4 adults in the world is leaving a sedentary lifestyle, and more than 80% of the world’s adolescent population is insufficiently physically active. A sedentary lifestyle is described as engaging in no leisure-time physical activity (exercises, sports, physically active hobbies) for two or more consecutive weeks. If you are leaving a sedentary lifestyle, you should know it is one of the leading risk factors for death and chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease, heart failure, diabetes mellitus, obesity, cancers (endometrial, colon, breast, kidney, and oesophageal), arthritis, depression, osteoporosis and high blood pressure. For these reasons, WHO member states have agreed to reduce insufficient physical activity by 10% by 2025.

Vigorous regular physical activity is described as an exercise that could make you sweat and breathe hard for at least 20 minutes on at least 3 days per week. While moderate physical activity is said to lasts for at least 30 minutes on at least five days per week. According to the world health organization’s recommendation, children and adolescents aged 5-17years should do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily. This should include activities that strengthen muscle and bone, at least 3 times per week. Whereas, Adults aged 18 years and above are supposed to perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week. Adults (aged 65 years and above) with poor mobility should perform physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls, 3 or more days per week.

Regular physical activity can help improve your child’s academic performance. It increases an adolescent’s self-esteem and reduces anxiety and stress. Physical activity has a beneficial effect on symptoms of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, exercise was said to stimulate the growth of new brain cells that enhance memory and learning (two functions deterred by depression). Clinical studies have demonstrated the feasibility and effectiveness of exercise as a treatment for depression in older men and women. Regular physical activity may also reduce the risk of cognitive decline and associated disorders (e.g Alzheimer’s) in older adults.

It is important for individuals who are currently at a healthy weight to strive to maintain it since both modest and large weight gains are associated with significantly increased risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, arthritis-related disabilities, asthma, and psychological difficulties due to social stigmatization. A weight gain of 4kg to 9kg increases a person’s risk for developing type 2 diabetes to twice that of individuals who have not gained weight, and risk of coronary heart disease (which can result in nonfatal heart attacks and death) by 1.25 times in women and 1.6 times in men. While those who gain 20kg or more have four times the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Regular physical activity along with a nutritious diet is key to maintaining a healthy weight. In order to maintain a healthy weight, there must be a balance between calories consumed and calories expended through metabolic and physical activity. Weight gain commonly results from a combination of excess calorie consumption and inadequate physical activity. Physical activities may account for as much as 15 to 40% of the calories you burn each day. For example, a 65kg person can burn 175 calories in 30 minutes of moderate bicycling, and 322 calories in 30 minutes of moderate jogging.

Physical activity may reduce your chance of getting common cold or flu by helping flush bacteria out of the lungs and airways. Exercise increases the speed of circulating antibodies and cells of the immune system (particularly the white blood cells). So they could detect illnesses earlier than they might have before exercising. The brief rise in body temperature during and right after exercise may help the body fight infection better by preventing bacteria from growing.

Insufficient physical activity has consequences on your finances. You will likely spend more money to access healthcare for chronic illnesses. In addition, a person’s inability to work because of illness and disability may result in lost wages. Since regular physical activity helps prevent disease and promote health, it may decrease your health care costs.

Employers stand to benefit from introducing workplace physical activity programs. This can reduce short-term sick leave, reduce health care costs, and increase productivity. Such “wellness” programs typically offer help in smoking cessation, managing stress, prenatal care, nutrition, and fitness.

Because physical inactivity is a risk factor for many diseases and conditions, making physical activity an integral part of your daily life is crucial. Physical activity need not be strenuous to be beneficial. People of all ages benefit from moderate physical activity, such as 30 minutes of walking for five or more days a week. You should note that physical activity does not need to be sustained for long periods for it to provide health benefits. Repeated shorter bursts of moderate-intensity activity also yield health benefits. In other words, depending on your condition, walking in two 15-minute segments or three 10-minute segments may be enough to keep you healthy.