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How physical activities everyday can save you from acute/chronic illnesses and promote wellbeing?

Moderate to vigorous physical activities improve your cardiovascular, respiratory, endocrine and nervous system which helps in weight management, fosters mental health, cognitive function, strengthens immune system and reduces the possibilities of chronic illnesses.

Physical activity by children

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Regular physical activity is one of the most important things one can do to improve their health and wellbeing. Physical activities can have tremendous benefits for everyone regardless of age, sex, ethnicity and current fitness level. Individuals with certain chronic illnesses can benefit a lot from regular physical activities.

There is an increase in global burden of non communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, obesity, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes due to physical inactivity.

Growing evidence demonstrates that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity improves the quality of sleep in adults. It does so by reducing the length of time it takes to go to sleep and reducing the time one is awake after going to sleep and before rising in the morning. It also can increase the time in deep sleep and reduce daytime sleepiness. 

Strong evidence from adults demonstrates that perceived quality of life is improved by regular physical activity. The research in health focuses on selected aspects of health-related quality of life, including both physical and mental or emotional health. It does not include other aspects of quality of life, such as those related to finances, relationships, or occupations. 

Physical activity improves physical function among individuals of all ages, enabling them to conduct their daily lives with energy and without undue fatigue. This is true for older adults, for whom improved physical function reduces risk of falls and fall-related injuries and contributes to their ability to maintain independence. 

It is also true for young and middle-aged adults, as improved physical function helps them more easily accomplish the tasks of daily living, such as climbing stairs or carrying groceries. 

In addition to improving physical function, physical activity may improve cognitive function among youth and adults. Aspects of cognitive function that may be improved include memory, attention, executive function (the ability to plan and organize; monitor, inhibit, or facilitate behaviors; initiate tasks; and control emotions), and academic performance among youth.

Timing of Benefits

A single session of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can reduce blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity, improve sleep, reduce anxiety symptoms, and improve some aspects of cognition on the day that it is performed. 

Most of these improvements become even larger with the regular performance of moderate-to vigorous physical activity. Other benefts, such as disease risk reduction and improved physical function, accrue within days to weeks after consistently being more physically active.

The Health Benefts of Physical Activity

Research demonstrates that participating in regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity provides many health benefts. Some benefts of physical activity can be achieved immediately, such as reduced feelings of anxiety, reduced blood pressure, and improvements in sleep, some aspects of cognitive function, and insulin sensitivity

Other benefts, such as increased cardiorespiratory fitness, increased muscular strength, decreases in depressive symptoms, and sustained reduction in blood pressure, require a few weeks or months of participation in physical activity. 

Physical activity can also slow or delay the progression of chronic diseases, such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Benefts persist with continued physical activity. The health benefts of physical activity are seen in children and adolescents, young and middle-aged adults, older adults, women and men, people of different races and ethnicities, and people with chronic conditions or disabilities. 

The health benefts of physical activity are generally independent of body weight. Adults of all sizes and shapes gain health and ftness benefts by being habitually physically active. The benefts of physical activity also outweigh the risk of injury and heart attacks, two concerns that may prevent people from becoming physically active.

Cardiorespiratory Health

The benefts of physical activity on cardiorespiratory health are some of the most extensively documented of all the health benefts. Cardiorespiratory health involves the health of the heart, lungs, and blood vessels. Heart disease and stroke are two of the leading causes of death globally. 

Risk factors that increase the likelihood of cardiovascular diseases include smoking, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and high levels of certain blood lipids (such as low-density lipoprotein [LDL] cholesterol). Low cardiorespiratory ftness also is a risk factor for heart disease. 

Physical activity strongly reduces both the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and the risk of developing
cardiovascular disease, including heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. Regularly active adults have lower rates of heart disease and stroke and have lower blood pressure, better blood lipid profiles, and better physical fitness. 

Signifcant reductions in risk of cardiovascular disease occur at activity levels equivalent to 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity. As with all-cause mortality, benefts begin with less than 150 minutes a week, and strong evidence shows that greater amounts of physical activity result in even further reductions in risk of cardiovascular disease.

Regular physical activity can greatly affect blood pressure, and effects can be immediate. People who have normal blood pressure beneft because the risk of developing hypertension is reduced. People who have hypertension also beneft because systolic and diastolic blood pressure are lowered. 

Both aerobic and muscle-strengthening physical activity are recommended to improve blood pressure. Even physical activity at levels below the key guidelines tends to beneft blood pressure, and engaging in more physical activity can have even greater benefts. 

Everyone, including children and adolescents, can gain the cardiovascular health benefts of physical activity. The amount of physical activity that provides favorable cardiorespiratory health and fitness outcomes is similar for men and women of all ages, including older people, as well as for adults of various races and ethnicities. 

Aerobic exercise also improves cardiorespiratory fitness in people with disabilities, including people who have lost the use of one or both legs and those with multiple sclerosis, stroke, and spinal cord injury.

Cardiometabolic Health and Weight Management

Cardiometabolic health is a term that encompasses cardiovascular diseases and metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. Cardiovascular disease and metabolic disease share a number of risk factors, and reducing risk of one can reduce risk for the other. Cardiometabolic health and weight status are also closely related issues and are often considered together.

Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiometabolic Health

Regular physical activity strongly reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in people of all body sizes. Physical activity can have an additive beneft for reducing risk of type 2 diabetes because physical activity reduces the risk of excessive weight gain, an independent risk factor for type 2 diabetes. 

Adults who regularly engage in aerobic activity of at least moderate intensity have a signifcantly lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than do inactive adults. These benefts begin to accrue at levels of physical activity below the key guideline of 150 to 300 minutes a week, and additional amounts of moderate- or vigorous-intensity physical activity seem to lower risk even further. 

Insulin sensitivity can be improved with just a single bout of physical activity. In addition, physical activity helps control blood glucose in people who already have type 2 diabetes. Physical activity improves cardiometabolic health in children and adolescents, as well as in adults. 

Specifcally, regular physical activity contributes to lower plasma triglycerides and insulin levels and may also play a role in improving high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and blood pressure.

Can High-Intensity Interval Training Be Helpful for Cardiovascular Health?

Most of the benefts of physical activity have been studied with moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Recent research has examined high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which may provide similar reductions in cardiovascular disease risk factors as those observed with continuous moderate intensity physical activity. 

HIIT is a form of interval training that consists of alternating short periods of maximal-effort exercise with less intense recovery periods. This type of exercise can improve insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, and body composition in adults. Interestingly, adults with overweight or obesity and those at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes tend to have greater cardiovascular benefts when doing HIIT compared to normal-weight or healthy adults.

Weight Management

Physical activity and caloric intake both must be considered when trying to control body weight. Because of its role in energy balance, physical activity is a critical factor in determining whether a person can maintain a healthy body weight, lose excess body weight, or maintain successful weight loss. 

Strong scientifc evidence shows that physical activity helps people maintain a stable weight over time and can reduce the risk of excessive weight gain and the incidence of obesity. People vary a great deal in how much physical activity they need to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. 

Some need more physical activity than others to maintain a healthy body weight, to lose weight, or to keep weight off once it has been lost. Many people need more than the equivalent of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week to maintain their weight. 

The relationship between physical activity and prevention of weight gain is most often observed with moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. Muscle-strengthening activities help promote weight maintenance, although not to the same degree as aerobic activity. 

People who want to lose a substantial amount of weight (more than 5 percent of body weight) and people who are trying to keep a signifcant amount of weight off once it has been lost may need to do more than 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week to meet weight-control goals. Muscle-strengthening activities can also help maintain lean body mass during weight loss. 

Combining both caloric restriction and physical activity tend to be most benefcial for weight loss rather than just caloric restriction or just physical activity. People with overweight or obesity tend to experience the same benefts of physical activity as those with normal weight.

Regular physical activity also helps control body weight or reduce body fat in children and adolescents ages 3 through 17 years. Throughout childhood and adolescence, higher levels of physical activity are associated with smaller increases in body weight and adiposity.

Bone and Musculoskeletal Health

Bones, muscles, and joints support the body and help it move. Healthy bones, joints, and muscles are critical to the ability to do daily activities without physical limitations such as climbing stairs, working in the garden, or carrying a small child. Progressive muscle-strengthening activities preserve or increase muscle mass, strength, and power. 

Greater amounts (through higher frequency, heavier weights, or more resistance) improve muscle function to a greater degree. Improvements occur in children and adolescents as well as in younger and older adults. Resistance exercises also improve muscular strength in persons with conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and spinal cord injury. 

Though aerobic activity does not increase muscle mass in the same way that muscle strengthening activities do, it may also help slow the loss of muscle with aging. Preserving bone, joint, and muscle health is essential with increasing age. Studies show that the frequent decline in bone density that happens during aging can be slowed with regular physical activity. 

These effects are seen in people who participate in aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening physical activity programs of moderate or vigorous intensity. The range of total physical activity for these benefits varies widely. Important changes seem to begin at 90 minutes a week. Building strong, healthy bones is also important for children and adolescents. 

Along with having a healthy diet that includes adequate calcium and vitamin D, physical activity is critical for bone development in youth. Children and adolescents ages 3 through 17 years who are physically active (such as by running, jumping, and doing other bone-strengthening activities) have higher bone mass, improved bone structure, and greater bone strength. 

Regular physical activity also helps people with osteoarthritis or other rheumatic conditions affecting the joints. Participation in 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity plus muscle-strengthening activity improves pain management, function, and quality of life. Up to 10,000 steps per day does not appear to worsen the progression of osteoarthritis. 

Very high levels of physical activity, however, may have extra risks. People who participate in very high levels of high-impact physical activity—such as elite or professional athletes—have a higher risk of hip and knee osteoarthritis, mostly due to the risk of injury involved in competing in some sports.

Functional Ability and Fall Prevention

Physical function, or functional ability, is the capacity of a person to perform tasks or behaviors that enable him or her to carry out everyday activities, such as climbing stairs, or to fulfill basic life roles, such as personal care, grocery shopping, or playing with grandchildren. 

Loss of functional ability is referred to as functional limitation. Middle-aged and older adults who are physically active have lower risk of functional limitations than do inactive adults. Physical activity can prevent or delay the onset of substantial functional or role limitations. 

Older adults who already have functional limitations also beneft from regular physical activity. Hip fracture is a serious health condition that can have life-changing negative effects for many older people. Physically active people, especially women, appear to have a lower risk of hip fracture than do inactive people. 

Among older adults, physical activity reduces the risk of falling and injuries from falls. Research demonstrates that multicomponent physical activity programs are most successful at reducing falls and injuries. These programs commonly include muscle-strengthening activities and balance training and may also include gait and coordination training, physical function training, and moderate-intensity activities, such as walking. 

It is important to note that doing only low-intensity walking does not seem to reduce the risk of fall-related injuries and fractures. Older adults, including those with a variety of health conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and hip fracture, and those with frailty obtain benefts from multicomponent physical activities. 

Brain Health

Brain health can be defned in many ways, but the guidelines focuses on the following areas:

• Youth—brain maturation and development and academic achievement;
• Older adults—dementia and cognitive impairment; and across the lifespan— cognition, anxiety and depression, quality of life, and sleep.

Some of the benefts of physical activity on brain health occur immediately after a session of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (acute effect), such as reduced feelings of state anxiety (short-term anxiety), improved sleep, and improved aspects of cognitive function. 

With regular physical activity (habitual effect), improvements are seen in trait anxiety (long-term anxiety), deep sleep, and components of executive function (including the ability to plan and organize; monitor, inhibit, or facilitate behaviors; initiate tasks; and control emotions).

Cognition

Compared to inactive people, people who do greater amounts of moderate- or vigorous-intensity physical activity may experience improvements in cognition, including performance on academic achievement tests, and performance on neuropsychological tests, such as those involving mental processing speed, memory, and executive function. 

Physical activity also lowers the risk of developing cognitive impairment, such as dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. These improvements from physical activity are present for people who have normal as well as impaired cognitive health, including conditions such as attention defcit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke. 

Healthy older adults, even in the absence of dementia, often show evidence of cognitive decline, especially on measures of processing speed, memory, and executive function. Physical activity may be an effective approach for improving cognitive function in older adults.

Quality of Life

Physically active adults and older adults are likely to report having a better quality of life. Being physically active also improves the sense of a better quality of life among people who have schizophrenia and related disorders.

Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental disorders. Participating in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity over longer durations (weeks or months of regular physical activity) reduces symptoms of anxiety in adults and older adults.

Engaging in regular physical activity reduces the risk of developing depression in children and adults and can improve many of the symptoms experienced by people with depression.

Sleep

In addition to feeling better, adults who are more physically active sleep better. Greater volumes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity are associated with reduced sleep latency (taking less time to fall asleep), improved sleep effciency (higher percentage of time in bed actually sleeping), improved sleep quality, and more deep sleep. 

Greater volumes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity are also associated with signifcantly less daytime sleepiness, better sleep quality, and reduced frequency of use of sleep-aid medications. The improvements in sleep with regular physical activity are also reported by people with insomnia and obstructive sleep apnea. 

The evidence that habitual moderate-to-vigorous physical activity reduces the risk of excessive weight gain, an important risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea, suggests that physical activity could have a favorable impact on the incidence of obstructive sleep apnea. 

The number of hours before bedtime at which the activity is performed does not matter. Benefts are similar for physical activity performed more than 8 hours before bedtime, 3 to 8 hours before, and less than 3 hours before bedtime.

Cancer

Physically active adults have a signifcantly lower risk of developing several commonly occurring cancers, as well as lower risk of several other cancers. Research shows that adults who participate in greater amounts of physical activity have reduced risks of developing cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lung and stomach.

These effects appear to apply to both men and women, regardless of weight status.

Women During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period

Moderate-intensity physical activity is safe for generally healthy women during pregnancy. Physical activity reduces the risk of excessive weight gain and gestational diabetes during pregnancy. 

Physical activity increases cardiorespiratory fitness without increasing the risk of negative pregnacy outcomes, such as low birth weight, preterm delivery, or early pregnancy loss. 

Physical activity during the postpartum period (first year after delivery) also improves the mother’s cardiorespiratory ftness, decreases symptoms of postpartum depression, and, when combined with caloric restriction, can help her return to her pre-pregnancy body weight after delivery.

Sources:

Myers, J., Kokkinos, P., Arena, R., & LaMonte, M. J. (2021). The impact of moving more, physical activity, and cardiorespiratory fitness: Why we should strive to measure and improve fitness. Progress in cardiovascular diseases64, 77–82. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2020.11.003

Zhu, Z., Yan, W., Wang, X., Hu, D., Zhu, Y., & Chen, J. (2021). Physical Activity, Blood Pressure Control, and Health-Related Quality of Life Among Hypertensive Individuals: A Cross-Sectional Study in Jiangsu Province, China. Asia-Pacific journal of public health33(5), 539–546. https://doi.org/10.1177/10105395211014650

Alpsoy Ş. (2020). Exercise and Hypertension. Advances in experimental medicine and biology1228, 153–167. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-15-1792-1_10

About the Author

Picture of Sanjeev Yadav, M.A. Yoga, P.G. Psych., DNHE
Sanjeev Yadav, M.A. Yoga, P.G. Psych., DNHE

Mr. Sanjeev is a yoga professional specializing in applied yoga, psychology, and human excellence with over more than 8 years of experience as a health and life coach, well-being trainer, and psycho-yogic counselor. He is completing his Ph.D. dissertation in Yoga.

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