Physical Activity is Medicine

Physical Activity is Medicine

Physical activity is an important part of living a healthy life, but how much physical activity and what kind of activity should I be doing? What if I have a pre-existing health condition that needs to be considered when exercising? In this article we are going to discuss these questions as well as the benefits of regular physical activity.

What is Physical Activity?

The World Health Organization describes physical activity as “any movement of the body that requires expenditure of energy”.

People often use the terms ‘physical activity’ and ‘exercise’ interchangeably however they differ as exercise is considered a subcategory of physical activity. For activity to be considered exercise, it must be planned, sustained and purposeful in nature. [1]

For example, doing your household chores is physical activity while going for a walk or run is considered exercise as it is a planned purposeful activity.

What are the benefits of regular physical activity?

Regular physical activity has many short- and long-term benefits:

Short term:

  • Improved mood and mental health, as endorphins released during exercise provide that feel good feeling
  • Improves your sleep
  • Increases your energy levels [3]

Long term:

  • Reduces the chance of developing conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic heart disease
  • Helps with management of these conditions.
  • Helps with weight management and assists with prevention of weight gain
  • Helps to lower the risk of age-related conditions such as dementia and Alzheimers Disease [5]

How much physical activity should I be doing?

  • 150 mins of Moderate intensity activity per week
  • 75 mins of Vigorous intensity activity per week
  • an equivalent combination of the two
  • strengthening of major muscle groups 2 days per week [2]

Moderate intensity activity is when you are getting your heart rate up, and you can still talk, but not sing. Some examples of moderate intensity exercise include a brisk walk, a gentle bike ride and dancing. At home this could include gardening or doing the household chores.

Vigorous intensity activity is when you start to feel a bit puffed and can only talk in short sentences. Examples of vigorous intensity exercise include going for a run, swimming or a fast cycle. [3]

Strengthening of major muscle groups includes exercises that work the thigh and leg muscles, the core and arm muscles, see below for a few examples.

Thigh and leg exercises: Squats, standing up and sitting down from a chair without using your hands, lunges, step ups, bridging (lying on your back, knees bent, lift bottom up).

Core exercises: Sit ups, seated knee lifts (sit in a chair, tighten your tummy and slowly lift alternating legs) or, on hands and knees, lift alternate arms or opposite arm and leg.

Arm exercises: Press ups (on floor, half or full or against wall), arm circles with arm raised at the side, bicep curls and punches with small weight (such as a drink bottle filled with water).

What if I have health conditions that may impact what exercise I can do?

  • Discuss with your Doctor or Physiotherapist first before starting into your exercise journey. They will be able to suggest what types of exercise and how much exercise is appropriate for you.
  • If you are keen to get a bit more active but would like some support, the following programmes are available: PhysioFITT and Green Prescription.
  • PhysioFITT [4] is a physiotherapy led programme that is designed for individuals who are keen to increase their physical activity levels but have physical, mental, personal or environmental barriers standing in their way. It is a supportive programme that is specific to individual interests, needs and goals. The physiotherapist takes into consideration any health conditions (eg diabetes, asthma, heart conditions, osteoporosis) and physical disabilities or previous injuries when designing the activities and exercises. Barrington Health Physiotherapist Karen Elliott helped in the development of PhysioFITT and is passionate about supporting people on their exercise journey. For more information about PhysioFITT please visit http://www.physiofitt.org.nz/ or call Barrington Health Physiotherapy on 03 925 9665 to make an appointment.
  • Green Prescription gives you access to personalised physical activity advice and support from a physical activity coach as well as access to community activity classes (when available under covid-19 restrictions). You can self-refer or ask your doctor or physiotherapist for a referral. For more information visit https://www.activecanterbury.org.nz/being-active/support-programmes/green-prescription-programme/

Remember, any activity is better than none, so start with what you can do now and slowly build on that. You might be surprised with how many minutes of activity you do without even realising it! If you have any pre-existing conditions or would like some support on your exercise journey, then we are here to help! We can help guide you throughout your journey by providing practical advice and encouragement.



WHO guidelines https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_adults/en/



 Reiner M, Niermann C, Jekauc D, Woll A. Long-term health benefits of physical activity–a systematic review of longitudinal studies