Maintaining a healthy weight isn't the only benefit of regular physical activity. Moving a little bit more every day can help you reduce stress, increase energy, improve posture and balance, strengthen muscles and bones, promote self-esteem, and enhance your overall quality of life. Leading a more active lifestyle doesn't have to be hard. In fact, it can be both easy and fun!
How active should you be?
The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines, which were revised by the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology in January 2011, set activity targets based on age. Not only do these targets identify the recommended duration and intensity of activity on a daily and weekly basis, but they also identify the health benefits of adopting the guidelines. Keep in mind that these guidelines are established as a bare minimum, and that the more physical activity you work into your daily routine, the greater the health benefits you'll reap.
Canadian physical activity guidelines
Children and youth ages five to 17 should accumulate at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily.
This should include:
• moderate-intensity activities (such as bike riding)
• vigorous-intensity activities (such as running, swimming or in-line skating) at least three days per week
• activities that strengthen muscle and bone at least three days per week
Being active for an hour a day can help kids and teens:
• improve their health
• do better in school
• improve their fitness
• grow stronger
• have fun playing with their friends
• feel happier
• maintain healthy body weights
• improve their self-confidence
• learn new skills
Adults ages 18 to 64 should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. It’s also beneficial to add muscle- and bone-strengthening activities using major muscle groups at least two days each week.
Being active for 150 minutes per week can help reduce an adult’s risk of:
• premature death
• heart disease
• high blood pressure
• certain types of cancer
• type 2 diabetes
• being overweight or obese
Those 150 minutes can also lead to improved:
• mental health (morale and self-esteem)
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Adults aged 65+ should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. As with adults ages 18 to 64, it's also beneficial to add muscle- and bone- strengthening activities using major muscle groups at least two days each week. Those with poor mobility should perform physical activities to enhance their balance and prevent falls.
Being active for 150 minutes per week can help reduce the risk of:
• chronic disease (such as high blood pressure and heart disease)
• premature death
The exercise will also help to:
• maintain functional independence
• maintain mobility
• improve fitness
• improve or maintain body weight
• maintain bone health
• maintain mental health
How you can hit these targets
Once you’ve committed to increasing your activity level, pace yourself. Start slowly and build your way up.
The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend adding activity throughout the day in periods of at least 10 minutes. So if you start each morning with 10 minutes of stretching, go for a 20-minute walk after dinner and then do 10 minutes of yard work, you've already clocked up 40 minutes. Gradually build from there, increasing either the duration or intensity of your activities.
How to monitor your progress
An inexpensive pedometer is a great way to gauge physical activity levels. We turned to ParticipACTION to decipher what those daily step counts actually mean.
Less than 5,000 = Sedentary
5,000 to 7,499 = Low active
7,500 to 9,999 = Somewhat active
10,000 to 12,499 = Active
12,500 or more = Highly active
If your stats show room for improvement, keep wearing that pedometer. "Studies show that pedometers actually increase people's rates of physical activity," says Village on a Diet's Dr. Ali Zentner. "Use the step count to set a goal to increase your steps by 1,000 every week."
How to properly hydrate
How well hydrated you are has a large impact on your energy level. Being thirsty is a signal that you need more fluid, and ignoring that signal can result in impaired physical performance, increased effort for physical work, nausea and difficulty concentrating. Further dehydration can lead to more serious complications.
The Dietary Reference Intakes indicate that men should consume a daily average of 12 cups (three litres) of fluid in order to stay well hydrated; women who consume an average of nine cups (2.25 litres) of fluid daily are generally well hydrated. If you find it hard to drink your fill, carry a two-cup (500-millilitre) water bottle with you throughout the day and make a conscious effort to finish at least two bottles. Another suggestion: Include a healthy beverage with all meals and snacks. The main thing is to make sure you are getting enough to satisfy your body's needs – and to keep you energized.
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