A Miracle Drug

My mother is a beautiful and vibrant 83 years young. As lovely on the inside as she is on the outside, she did however recently acknowledge that she was slowing down and didn’t seem to have quite as much energy.

Spurred by her partner who coincidently was ordered by his doctor to get more physically active, they made a commitment to walk together every single day. Although initially the walks left them feeling tired, within a few short weeks they started to see results. Not only were they feeling stronger and more energetic, they were feeling more alert and sleeping better.

Unlike far too many Canadians, they understand the importance of physical activity and have made it a priority.

As Dr. Trevor Hancock, from the School of Public Health and Social Policy at the University of Victoria, pointed out during his keynote address at last week’s first ever National Recreation Summit held in Lake Louise, Alberta, “If recreation and physical activity were a drug, we would call it a miracle drug!”

Seventy percent of all potential years of life lost before age 75, are due to cancer, circulatory disease, and injuries (intentional and unintentional), and chronic respiratory disease. Suicide alone, which is included within injuries, accounted for the fourth largest number of potential years of life lost to premature mortality. All can be offset by physical activity and recreation.

According to Statistics Canada, regular physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, depression, stress, and anxiety.

Despite know that participating in regular physical activity is an effective way to prevent the development of many health risks, the physical activity and fitness of Canadians continues to decrease. Over the past several decades, evidence has shown that levels of physical activity and fitness of Canadians has dropped dramatically, and the number of Canadians considered overweight or obese has steadily increased. There has also been a steady increase of diseases associated with being overweight and obese such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

A mere 7% of children and youth were active enough to meet current Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines last year. They are, in fact, spending an average of 6-8 hours per day, or 62% of their waking hours being sedentary. And, only 15% of adults are meeting the most current physical activity recommendation. The majority—69%—of Canadian adults’ waking hours are spent in sedentary pursuits. 

To maximize health benefits, children aged 5-11 years and youth aged 12-17 years should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily. This should include vigorous-intensity activities at least 3 days per week and activities that strengthen muscle and bone at least 3 days per week.

Adults (18-64 years) and older adults (65+) are encouraged to participate in a variety of physical activities to achieve health benefits. They should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. It is also beneficial to add muscle and bone strengthening activities using major muscle groups, at least 2 days per week. Those with poor mobility should perform physical activities to enhance balance and prevent falls.

Older adults can meet these guidelines through planned exercise sessions, transportation, recreation, sports, or occupational demands in the context of family, work, volunteer, and community activities. This should be achieved above and beyond the physical activities carried out as the result of daily living.

Following these guidelines can reduce the risk of chronic disease and premature death, maintain functional independence and mobility, as well as improve fitness, body composition, bone health, cognitive function, and indicators of mental health.

Ultimately, it is quite simple. More physical activity provides greater health benefits. Or, as my mother puts it, “I expect to live a good while longer, I’m going to do everything I can to ensure it’s a life of quality.”

Posted on 11-06-11

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