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Move more, feel healthier

Sam, a PhD researcher from the University of St Andrews, tells us about the health benefits of being active, and why we should all make time to move more during the working day.

Published: 31/10/2023

We all know this, but it’s worth saying it again: physical activity is tremendously beneficial to our health! Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighted that physical activity significantly benefits our hearts, bodies and minds. Physically speaking, regular engagement in physical activity is known to result in reduced risk of over 25 chronic medical conditions – including cancers, diabetes, strokes and cardiovascular diseases, among others. In fact, there’s been a lot of research demonstrating that those who regularly meet physical activity guidelines have a huge reduction in all-cause mortality rates.

But the potential benefits don’t stop there, with physical activity having a deep-rooted relationship with our mental wellbeing too. Depression, anxiety and stress can all be improved with physical activity. What many of us perhaps don’t realise is that regular physical activity can also improve our cognitive health, that is enhancing our memory, attention and learning capabilities.

The World Health Organization guidelines suggest that as adults, we should all be attempting to achieve at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity each week. These are activities where you’re having to put in enough effort to raise your heart rate, and you could have a conversation but not sing along to a song, such as a brisk walk or riding a bike. Additionally, we need to be doing muscle strengthening activities at least twice a week. These don’t have to mean lifting weights in a gym, but can also include yoga, calisthenics (like press-ups and sit-ups) or even carrying heavy shopping bags (or children!). There is also an acknowledgement that those doing more vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity like running, swimming or team sports (i.e. football, rugby, hockey etc) must aim for a minimum of 75 minutes per week – as a guide, vigorous exercise makes you breathe hard and fast, where you can only say a few words without the need to pause for breath.  WHO also acknowledge that for additional health benefits we should all be striving to reach double these amounts, with the goal of 300 minutes of activity or more being the target if possible. Each guideline changes slightly depending on our age or if you might be pregnant, and if you want to find out more, check out the World Health Organization’s guidelines here!  What’s also important to note is that whilst it does sound a lot and can be quite daunting to think about, as WHO say ‘Every Move Counts’, and it is absolutely pivotal for our health that where we can, we limit our sedentary time and replace it with activity of any intensity.

Participating in the Step Count Challenge is a great way to approach this, with previous research finding that on average people increased their daily step count by around 1000 steps by the end of the challenge – that’s equivalent to over 60 minutes of extra walking in a week! Walking has been labelled the ‘Best Buy for Public & Planetary Health’ by WHO, and there are policies in place at a governmental level appealing for a greater level of walking, with the identification that walking and wheeling may be the easiest ways for an adult to achieve a greater level of moderate-intensity physical activity. Such are the capabilities of walking, it has been estimated that 75 minutes of brisk walking a week may lead to an extra 1.8 years of life, which only increases the more walking you do!

Physical activity is important for so many aspects of our health and wellbeing, so what better way to do it than getting your colleagues involved too!