Physical activity and human health

More and more often, in order to find time for systematic physical activity, we have to do a good deal of exercise. It is difficult to find time needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It turns out, however, that sometimes slight modifications of our habits can help us find ways to do physical exercises – through activities that are not directly associated with sport.

Table of contents:

What causes physical inactivity?
Effects of physical activity on health
Physical activity and lack of time
How much time is needed for physical activity?
Physical activity at work
Physical activity at home

More and more often we hear alarming news in the media about the bad health of Polish people, resulting partly from the lack of exercise and physical activity. In general, this problem applies to our country as well as to the majority of the developed societies. However, this should not be comforting news, because the situation in our country is not improving at all.

What causes the lack of physical activity?

As many as 60% of Poles do not do any physical activity. On the other hand, the number of people spending three hours (or more) in front of TV every day increases every year. In 1996 this percentage was 19%, and in 2013 it was over 32%. This is the cause of the growing number of diseases such as:

  • hypertension,
  • diabetes.

In 2010, as many as 9 million Poles suffered from hypertension and 1.5 million from diabetes. If we fail to reverse the trend, the forecast is clearly pessimistic. In 2035, these figures will amount to 15 million and 3.2 million, respectively.

The lack of active lifestyle results in:

  • overweight,
  • obesity.

Currently in Poland 15% of people are obese. This is a much better result than in the USA (35%) or Great Britain (26%). However, the French are healthier than us (12.9%) as well as Italians (10%), not to mention the Japanese (only 3.5%).

In a diagram developed back in the 1970s by Canadian Health Minister, Marc Lalonde, the most important factor influencing our health is our lifestyle (50%). The factors such as the quality of health care (10%) or genetic features (20%) are much less important. Physical activity is part of lifestyle.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified insufficient physical activity as the fourth most important risk factor of premature death and mortality worldwide. Experts from the European Commission prepared a document a few years ago in which they encourage everyone to perform physical activity.

Influence of physical activity on health

The list of scientifically proven good effects of a healthy and active lifestyle is very extensive. Let’s limit ourselves to the most important ones and mention just some of them:

  • reduction of the risk of cardiovascular diseases,
  • stopping or delaying the development of hypertension,
  • reduction of the risk of obesity,
  • preservation of metabolic functions,
  • support in the prevention of type 2 diabetes.

Physical activity also reduces the occurrence of certain types of neoplasms, such as breast, prostate and colon cancers.

Better mineralization of the skeleton at a young age contributes to the prevention of osteoporosis and fractures at an older age. However, practising sports or doing physical exercise results is something more than a positive effect on the prevention of serious diseases. We must not forget that it affects the quality of everyday life.

Please note that physical activity allows you to maintain and improve muscle strength and endurance, the consequence being a better ability to perform everyday activities. Lower levels of stress and the associated better quality of sleep are another added value of physical activity.

It should also be mentioned that thanks to activity we have a better image of ourselves and better self-esteem, as well as greater enthusiasm and optimism. So all effects are positive!

Physical activity and lack of time

Given the fact that sport is so beneficial, why do Poles shun it? There are several reasons. Certainly, this is partly due to ignorance, or lack of imagination. Obviously, however, a large number of us do not change our lifestyle because of the lack of time for exercises.

I have to admit that I don't do any sport, I don't exercise, I don't ride a bike. I don't have time for that. I spend a lot of time at work, there are also daily duties, stuff about the children, or shopping, explains Alicja from Kraków. She simply doesn't have a chance to fit in any additional activities. Once a friend used to persuade me to take Pilates classes, but twice a week for 1.5 hours plus commuting.... it’s beyond me.

One has to admit that Alicja is right. Time cannot be stretched out. Some people advise to slow down the pace of life, let go, spend some time in nature, escape from civilization. Well, it is easier said than done. Our lives are faster and faster (whether we like it or not), and the most of us will increasingly complain about the lack of time. However, there is no need to wring your hands. There are ways to live an active, healthy life and, at the same time, try to manage your time rationally.

How much time is needed for physical activity?

IMPORTANT: The World Health Organization recommends that for healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 65, the goal is to achieve systematic, moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes five days a week or, alternatively, very intensive physical activity for at least 20 minutes three days a week. The World Health Organization points out that we can divide the time spent on exercises into blocks that are at least 10 minutes each.

It is also recommended to exercise in order to increase muscle strength and endurance twice or three times a week. For people over 65 years of age it can be assumed that, with a few exceptions, the standards are the same as for people between 18-65. Schoolchildren should do daily physical activity for at least 60 minutes a day.

Standards are important, but how to save up to half an hour five days a week? There are many ways to do this. One of the simplest is to give up some activities (such as watching TV) in favour of sport.

Almost everyone who started exercising, running, doing a sport, felt something of positive addiction. Deprived of a normal dose of sport, the person feels anxious and uncomfortable. Hence, if we take the first step and survive a month of systematic activity, our chances of remaining active are very high.

Physical activity at work

But what if it’s hard for us to cut out of our daily schedule so much time for sport? In this case, too, we are not doomed to fail. It turns out that we can treat some of our daily activities as a kind of a workout, or by changing our habits to find physical activity in simple activities that do not require any special equipment or infrastructure.

Prof. Paul Loprinzi from Oregon State University conducted an interesting study on a sample of 6,000 Americans. Professor Loprinzi compared practicing sports such as running, swimming or cycling with everyday activities such as walking or gardening.

It turns out that the differences in the impact on our health are small. For instance, we can walk up the stairs every day instead of using an elevator. In the calorie burning table, this is one of the most effective activities. When repeated every day, it will quickly become a habit. So looking for daily activities is the key here.

We encourage everyone to walk to work – obviously when it’s not too far. If the distance is considerable, we can get off the bus two stops earlier and walk the rest of the way.

An interesting recommendation made by Professor Loprinzi is also to develop the habit of walking while talking on the phone. After a few such conversations we will be surprised to discover that we walked several hundred meters. When we are at work, it makes sense to take a few moments break for short exercises.

While waiting for a printout of larger documents, I try to make a few bends and stretch the muscles a little, says Karolina, an office worker from Warsaw. I know that these are not very strenuous exercises, but nevertheless they give us a break and introduce some variety.

Physical activity at home

However, you don’t live by work alone. We can also find healthy exercise in other activities. We spend more and more time in front of the television. This is a fact, but we can also use this time actively. How? More and more popular game consoles such as Xbox or Playstation have systems that make it possible to control the movements of our bodies in games. There are a lot of sports games in which we have to copy the moves as a tennis player on the court, a boxer in the ring, or a football player on the pitch.

Such dry training gives a lot of fun – and requires a lot of effort from us as well. Talking about innovative gadgets, it is worth paying attention to the increasingly popular mobile applications that allow us to measure the intensity and time spent on various activities. One of the simplest is a popular pedometer, known from Android mobile devices. There are also more advanced applications – they can both monitor and also suggest how many more steps we should go, or perform other actions to meet the daily target.

As you can see, in order to live a healthy life, you do not have to leave work, go to the countryside, buy fitness club membership card or expensive equipment. If our goal is a healthy lifestyle, a little bit of goodwill, some knowledge and regularity will be enough. If we meet these three conditions, we will certainly achieve the goal.


Calorie burning table:

walking up the stairs - 948 kcal/hour
fast march - 600 kcal/hour
slow walk - 172 kcal/hour
swimming - 468 kcal/hour
dynamic dance - 366 kcal/hour
aerobics - 300 kcal/hour
bowling - 204 kcal/hour
skating - 426 kcal/hour
vacuuming - 135 kcal/hour
rope-skipping - 492 kcal/hour
sit-ups - 400 kcal/hour