With the nice weather around the corner, we can finally break free of the massive blanket(s) that sheltered us for the past few months. Longer daylight hours encourage us to break the sedentary cycle we experience in the winter; it’s time to get back in the active groove and just move!
We can undoubtedly agree that being physically active in any form or to any degree offers significant health benefits. For good measures, the Government of Canada recommends adults and seniors participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week . However, despite their best intentions to implement these guidelines, this can come across as intimidating and may even discourage those currently inactive. The general message (exercise is excellent for overall health) is well understood, but the portrayal (you can only reap health benefits with 150+ minutes of moderate to vigorous activity) is far from the truth.
Is 150+ minutes a reasonable end goal for the general population? Most definitely! But in the interim, the goal should be promoting physical activity irrespective of time, particularly in those currently inactive. This is especially the case for low-burden activities requiring no special skills or previous experience, and is at low cost/free to the individual (walking, yard work, hiking, stair climbing, etc.). This in turn may influence those to adopt a more active lifestyle to obtain more meaningful health benefits .
Now what if we’re ready for 150+ minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week? It’s well documented that the greater the amount of physical activity performed, the more favourable the health outcomes . What health outcomes are we referring to? According to research, incorporating physical activity has been linked to a multitude of both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) health benefits.
What exactly are we gaining from a single bout of exercise health-wise, aside from having a better sleep? A review performed by Basso and Suzuki (2017) summarized the effects of acute exercise on cognitive functioning and mood . They found improvements in participant’s attentiveness, problem solving, decisions, and memory with effects lasting up to two hours after exercise. Additionally, mood-enhancing effects (stress reduction, decreased feelings of depression, anger, tension and confusion) were also observed, lasting up to one day after exercise. The greatest mood and cognition-boosting exercise benefits actually stem from particular activities that offer an enjoyable experience to the individual . In other words, those who choose their desired form of activity experience the greatest benefit, influencing them to make it a re-occurring habit. Physical activity is also linked to social health outcomes like spending more time with family, friends and meeting new people, further enhancing those mood-boosting effects!
In addition to the acute benefits mentioned above, a single bout of exercise can contribute to an increase in energy expenditure (a.k.a. burning more calories). Depending on the duration and intensity level of the activity, the increased energy output can last up to 24 hours post-exercise, demonstrating the importance of regular activity for any weight loss/management protocol.
How about the long-term health effects of regular physical activity? Simply put, exercise reduces your risk for chronic diseases. In fact, there are about 40 conditions that worsen with physical inactivity: poor balance, increased risk of bone fractures, various types of cancers, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, depression/anxiety, cognitive decline, constipation, decreased immune function, osteoporosis, arthritis, and type II diabetes to name a few . We can safely assume that living an active lifestyle can help combat these conditions, so let’s just leave it at that. Physical activity (along with nutrition) is one of the greatest self-care behaviours at our disposal, and can positively influence our quality of life and wellbeing long-term. Even as we age, maintaining a healthy level of activity improves independence and has been associated with increased lifespan!
How do we increase our activity? First off, start small and gently ease into adding activity on a daily basis. Whether it’s parking the furthest away from the grocery store, taking your dog for a walk, getting off of the bus a stop or two early, household chores or outdoor activities, these small changes over a period of time make a difference. For those looking to challenge themselves, hiring a personal trainer to help achieve your fitness goals, or signing up at your local gym are excellent ways to commit to being active.
And there you have it. You heard it here first (maybe)! If not, the information above may now persuade you to finally implement that exercise you’ve wanted to happen for years! Remember, it’s never too late to be active. This is just one piece of a larger puzzle to live a longer, healthier and happier life! Now if only we had the appropriate nutritional support to supplement our activity (coming soon, stay tuned for more!). In the meantime, just get out there and move!
 Government of Canada. (2019, January 14). Tips for healthy eating. Retrieved February 26, 2019, from https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/tips-for-healthy-eating/physical-activity/
 Füzéki, E., & Banzer, W. (2018). Physical Activity Recommendations for Health and Beyond in Currently Inactive Populations. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,15(5), 1042. doi:10.3390/ijerph15051042
 Basso, J. C., & Suzuki, W. A. (2017). The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review. Brain Plasticity,2(2), 127-152. Retrieved March 4, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5928534/.
 Ruegsegger, G. N., & Booth, F. W. (2018). Health Benefits of Exercise. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press,1-16. Retrieved March 5, 2019.