Current guidelines suggest we need to take 30-45 minutes of 'moderate' exercise on most or preferably all days to keep us fit, healthy and help ward off major illnesses like cancer, cardiovascular disease, dementia and diabetes. But what does 'moderate' exercise actually mean?
Well, it's physical activity that involves a medium amount of energy and effort, where you should struggle to have a conversation. This may vary from person to person according to their fitness. So what may be moderate for a sedentary person maybe not be moderate for someone who's been jogging for years. It's therefore important to find what level of exercise is moderate for you, from a brisk walk to a slow or fast cycle to a jog or run.
One way to work out what your version of 'moderate' is - is to calculate it according to your heart rate. You start with the number 220 and subtract your age, then it's 60% of that.Eg: If you're 40, then 220 - 40 = 180 x 0.6 = 108And you don't have to do it all at once - break the 45 minutes up if you want to. Perhaps brisk walking to and/or from work or to the shops or your local café instead of driving could help you get your 45 minutes on some days - or taking the stairs rather than the lift or escalator.
Don't forget about weight training. One of the things that makes people feel old is that you can't get around the way you used to; lifting becomes a problem and you generally feel weaker. Our muscles become older, thinner and a bit feebler and this can be a reason elderly people end up in a nursing home or require extra care at home.
One reason our muscles 'clap out' as we age is that the energy factories inside our cells – little things called mitochondria – become progressively damaged by free radicals – highly toxic substances which are side products of energy production.
Researchers discovered by accident that when you stress old muscle tissue in the laboratory, old mitochondria seem to be hoovered up and refreshed muscle grows back. So they tried it on real people using a natural way of stressing muscle, namely progressive weight training and lo and behold, the mitochondria and muscles appeared to rejuvenate.
So some light weight training a couple of times per week and progressively building up over time is a great way to keep not only trim, taut and terrific but to help keep the ageing process at bay. Unfortunately they've yet to come up with a way of fixing the mitochondria in wrinkles - but we'll be the first to let you know when they do. Muscle training has also been shown to reduce the chances of developing diabetes in people at risk of doing so.
The National Physical Activity Guidelines for Australians outline the minimum levels of physical activity required to gain a health benefit and have great ways to incorporate physical activity into everyday life. You can find a copy of them here.