To maintain our health, physical activity is of great importance. Regular exercise and activity may prevent and heal several illnesses. Hence, it makes an important part of the recommendations of all international and domestic professional organizations besides nutritional advice and drug treatment.
One of four adults worldwide does not lead an actively enough life, and the ratio is even worse in children: 80% of adolescents lacks enough physical activity. Some people consider walking, doing chores or walking the dog as physical activity. These low-intensity activities are certainly important first steps to change an inactive lifestyle, but to treat illnesses or to improve overall fitness, regular and at least moderate-intensity training is necessary.
According to the international recommendations, every person should exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Regular, moderate-intensity physical activity has positive effects on health.
Amongst others, it decreases the risk of:
- cardiovascular diseases;
- colon and breast cancer;
- hip and vertebra fractures.
Regular exercise also helps maintaining ideal weight and enhances mood and well-being.
Recommended amount of physical activity
According to the recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO) a minimum of 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (at 50-70% of the maximum heart rate) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week is needed. In addition, 30 minutes muscle-strengthening activity twice a week is advised. Twice as much may increase the positive effects substantially.
Most international and domestic professional organizations use the same recommendations, and with some adjustments they can be incorporated in disease-specific therapies.
The recommendations vary according to age groups.
Children (5-17 years)
60 minutes per day of moderate or vigorous-intensity activity is recommended. The type of chosen exercise should be enjoyable and consist of different sports.
Aerobics, muscle strengthening, lifting weights, exercises, improving balance and flexibility and developing motor skills are all good choices.
Healthy adults (18-64 years)
At least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity* aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity** aerobic activity per week or the combination of those are advised. Moderate-intensity activity is exercise during which continuous conversation cannot be kept. Muscle strengthening exercise is also recommended twice a week.
According to those recommendations, healthy adults should do at least 30 minutes moderate-intensity aerobic activity five times a week or 20 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity three times a week.
The exercises developing muscle-strength and endurance should be done 2-3 days a week.
Over 65 years
The goals for this age group are basically the same as for healthy adults. They should, however, choose exercises improving balance and preventing falls.
Slow walk for adults (from young to middle age) means 3500 steps in 30 minutes. The elderly take 2500 steps in half an hour. Moderate-intensity walking is 4000 steps for adults and 3500 steps for the elderly, although intensive walking (on slopes or running) is 4500 steps for adults and 4000 for the elderly in 30 minutes.
*During moderate-intensity physical activities the body warms up and slightly tires.
**During vigorous-intensity physical activities the training is energetic, the body sweats and tires.
Effect of different types of exercises
Cardio activities: during aerob or endurance exercises main muscle groups of the body are moved with rhythmic movements, developing physique. Such exercises are walking, running, swimming, cycling, and rowing etc.
Muscle strengthening exercises: with muscle strengthening exercises muscles are actively contracted or resist to a weight. Weights, flexible tools or body weight may be used for these kinds of exercises. Examples are push-ups or sport climbing.
Bone strengthening exercises: bone strengthening and weightlifting exercises provide to the growing and strengthening of bones. Examples are jumping rope, jogging (also an aerobic exercise), weightlifting and push ups (these are also muscle strengthening exercises).
Balance exercises: balance exercises are static or dynamic trainings, helping to prepare the person for the navigation on uneven surfaces.
Stretching exercises: these exercises use and broaden the maximum moving range of joints.
Doing proper quantity and quality of training improves muscle strength and endurance, has positive effect on the health of bones, metabolism and helps reach and maintain ideal body weight. It decreases sensitivity to stress, improves stress tolerance and the quality of sleep.
Regular training should be a part of everyday activities and it does not necessarily require further planning or buying monthly card to a gym. Additional exercise may be walking a few bus stops or cycling instead of going by car.
For preserving good health, taking on regular exercise is the most preferable strategy. Further information (using also international sources) on the importance of physical activity and training can be found on the website of Hungarian College of Lifestyle Medicine.