As a new report reveals the mental health benefits of just an hour’s physical activity a week, it seems there is nothing a yoga or pilates workout can’t cure.
If it’s lunchtime, go and join a yoga or pilates class on foot. What’s to lose? You are going to feel better and live longer.
We have the sitting disease. According to a report by Public Health England (PHE) in May, physical inactivity is one of the top 10 causes of disease and disability in England. It is responsible for one in six deaths in the UK, which is the same as smoking.
If exercise was a pill, it would be the biggest blockbuster in the history of medicine.
Getting off your backside and moving about, preferably a bit vigorously some of the time, will stave off heart disease, strokes, cancer and diabetes.
It can keep your blood pressure steady and helps you sleep. You may not shed pounds, but it will help keep your weight stable. It can overcome anxiety and boost self-esteem. Older people who are active are less likely to have a hip fracture or a fall.
Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer who practises before she preaches, goes for a jog twice a week – even though she says she doesn’t much like it in order to set an example.
She advocates 150 minutes of physical activity a week, which is the equivalent of half an hour, five days a week. That can be walking or cycling. It should be enough to raise your heart rate, make you breathe faster and feel warmer. Vigorous activity is something that makes you out of breath.
We weren’t built to sit in front of a computer, a TV screen and a steering wheel. We were designed to be moving around.
“It is what we were made to do,” says Nick Cavill of Oxford University’s department of public health. “Everyone probably knows the basic point, but often we overlook it in our busy modern lives. We are hunter-gatherers. We were designed to be physically active all day long.
“Our bodies are still stuck in neolithic times, while our minds are in the 21st century.”
Given our ancestors were chasing dinner all day long, you might think it follows that we need to be physically active the entire time we are awake, jogging on the spot at our standing desk. But, thankfully, Cavill says no. Long-term studies, following active and sedentary people until their deaths, have worked out that there is a dose response curve.
“The more exercise you do, the better it is – up to a certain level,” he says. “A marathon runner or a triathlete is not doing much better for their health than somebody who is reasonably active.
Half an hour a day is what they say now – or two for the price of one if you do vigorous exercise. Every vigorous minute is the equivalent of two moderately active minutes.”