Many people don’t resolve to get more active. Instead, they resolve to lose weight or get in shape. In my experience, because those are potential outcomes of getting more active that can take time, people often lose their motivation when they don’t see any noticeable differences as quickly as they had hoped.
As the Scientific Director at ParticipACTION, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people in Canada get more physically active, one of the key messages I want to stress is the many benefits that come with moving your body every day.
Yes, over time, you may see physical changes to your body like weight loss or muscle gain, improved heart and lung health, stronger bones, and decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. More importantly, though, adding movement to your day-to-day routine provides many benefits for our brains and social well-being, like feelings of belonging and inclusion.
How much physical activity do adults really need?
According to the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology’s 24-Hour Movement Guidelines, adults aged 18-64 years should get at least 150 minutes of heart-pumping physical activity each week. Adults should also aim to engage in muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week, with several hours of light physical activity, including standing (if you’re able), added to the mix.
If those numbers sound intimidating, don’t worry. By spreading out your active time throughout the whole week, it becomes much easier to build up to the 24-Hour Movement Guidelines. Across 7 days, you’re looking at roughly 22 minutes of physical activity per day, or smaller still, 2 bouts of 10 minutes per day.
6 big-time benefits of getting more active
Dodge disease and accidents
Physical activity contributes to a healthy immune system and reduces inflammation. This can help with everything from healing wounds to fighting colds to reducing the risk and severity of heart disease, some forms of cancer, arthritis, symptoms of depression and anxiety, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, dementia and overall cognitive decline, and muscle and bone injuries.
A recent study shows that you only need to walk at least 3,867 steps a day to reduce the risk of dying from any cause, and 2,337 steps a day decrease the risk of dying from heart disease. Even a simple increase of 1,000 steps a day can lower your risk of disease by 15%.
As well as getting away from daily stress and enjoying some you-time, engaging in heart-pumping activity calms your mind and body by inhibiting the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Physical activity also helps improve our overall resilience in bouncing back from stressful situations.
Getting your body moving increases energy-boosting neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Researchers have found that healthy adults who engaged in as little as 20 minutes of low-to-moderate physical activity per day, three days a week for six weeks, reported feeling less fatigued and more awake.
When you increase your heart rate by moving, oxygen travels to your heart and lungs, improving your cardiovascular system, endurance, and stamina. When you make morning workouts a regular part of your routine, you’ll notice improvements like a consistent boost in your energy, powering you through the day.
Boost mental sharpness and productivity
Problem-solving, memory, and concentration all improve following physical activity due in part to the release of a chemical known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). There’s also evidence that parts of the brain grow as people get fitter, which delivers longer-term brain benefits. People who are regularly active have been proven to be more productive at work, think more creatively, and are less likely to make mistakes than those who aren’t active.
Physical activity gets your body ready for a good snooze. Regular physical activity can help you sleep for longer, improve sleep quality, and decrease the time it takes to fall asleep. However, you should avoid strenuous activity close to bedtime.
How to break down barriers to getting more active
The most common barriers preventing people from getting active are lack of time, energy, motivation and confidence. Try these strategies to overcome them.
- Schedule time for getting active in your calendar and treat it as a “must-do” item, just like you would with a medical appointment. If your scheduled outdoor activity is cancelled due to bad weather, have a backup plan and take your workout indoors.
- If your evenings are fully booked with kids’ activities, use that time to walk, jog, or wheel around the field, arena, or community centre.
- Being active doesn’t have to mean pumping iron or running a marathon–it can include everyday tasks like walking your dog or your kids to school and doing household chores like washing dishes, raking leaves, shovelling, or mowing the lawn.
- Meet a friend for a walk or run. Not only is it motivating to have a buddy to exercise with, but it also keeps you accountable.
- Reward your progress–for example, book a massage at the end of the week if you’ve met your goals.
- Build your confidence. Start working out at home or in the neighbourhood, then progress to the gym.
Remember: roadblocks are going to pop up along the way—life happens, after all—but being ready for these challenges gives you a head start. Just because you had to miss your gym workout to pick up the kids doesn’t mean you can’t play street hockey with them after dinner instead. Get creative and avoid all-or-nothing thinking. Some activity is better than nothing, and more is always better.
Make technology work for you
From smartphones and smartwatches to tablets and TVs, screens and devices aren’t going anywhere. So, why not learn to use them to your advantage?
Most smartphones have built-in accelerometers or pedometers that keep track of your daily steps and movement. Use these features to motivate yourself to move a little more each day. Did you take 8,000 steps yesterday? Amazing! Maybe take the stairs instead of the elevator or park your car a little further away today and get up to 8,500 or even 9,000 steps.
Can’t get away from your screen during the workday? That’s okay. Think of ways to sneak some movement in while working. Take video calls standing up or have your meetings on the move, swap your chair for a stability ball to engage your core, or stretch at your workstation.
When you’re done working for the day, make it a habit to go for a 15-minute walk or wheel with your partner, dog or friend, or fly solo while listening to relaxing music instead of coming home and watching TV. You’ll add a few more steps to your daily goal and spend just a little less time in front of a screen.
Easy ways to get more active
- Participate in a team sport or activity like basketball, hockey, or pickleball in the evening to take your mind off the day’s events. If cost is a concern, many city facilities offer low or no cost activities.
- Seek out local retailers (for example, running and cycling specialty stores) that offer weekly group workouts, often free of charge.
- Join a folk or cultural dancing group to connect with people of similar backgrounds.
- Opt for active dates like skating, cycling or hiking. Fun and healthy activities can help promote bonding.
- Learn to love Canada’s four seasons by finding activities you can enjoy during each. Snow on the ground? Try your hand at snowshoeing. Summer in full swing? Take a paddleboarding lesson.
For more tips to help you get more active and to access free resources like exercise videos, I encourage you to check out the ParticipACTION website
Do you have any personal barriers that prevent you from getting active? Tell us in the comments below, and we’ll do our best to give you some ideas to help get past them!