Which physical activity should I choose to improve my health?
It is important to have some criteria in mind when choosing the physical activity that we want to do or recommend. In this sense, it is important to take the following three premises into account:
- An activity that we like (Moreno, 2003:43)
The first thing is that we should like doing it; if we do not like the activity we are doing, we will not keep the continuity up to an appropriate level. In this sense, there is a wide variety of physical activities that can easily be adapted to anyone’s taste, from going out for daily walks to activities that are more sports-based, such as basketball, handball…, there is a very wide range of possibilities. So, the first thing is that we should like doing it.
- Bear in mind our personal characteristics
Secondly, the physical activity should be adapted to the actual capabilities of the person based on gender, age, physical condition, etc. (Moreno, 2003:44). Obviously, with a heavier body, activities such as swimming, which does not require the constant support of the body’s weight during exercise, should be recommended, because supporting the body’s weight could cause problems in the knee, ankle and hip joints, which would be subject to heavy impacts. It is also important to take a person’s age into account. Of course, physical activity should be lifelong but, like everything else, it has to be adapted to each stage of life.
In order to provide clear references for the physical exercise appropriate for each stage, the WHO (2010) makes the following recommendations by age in its publication: “Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health”:
– Young people from 5 to 17 years old. WHO recommends physical activity that consists of games, sports, getting about, recreational activities, physical education or exercise scheduled within the family, at school or as part of community activities. To be more specific, in order to improve cardiorespiratory and muscular functions and ensure healthy bones, it is recommended that:
- Children and young people from 5 to 17 years old should dedicate a minimum of 60 minutes a day to moderate or vigorous physical activities.
- Physical activity that exceeds 60 minutes a day will result in even more benefits for their health.
- Daily physical activity should, for the most part, be aerobic. At least three times a week, it should include vigorous activities that strengthen the muscles and bones in particular.
– Adults (18 to 64 years)
For the adults in this group, physical activity consists of recreational or leisure activities, moving around (e.g. walking or cycling), occupational activities (i.e. work), housework, games, sports, or exercises within the context of daily, family and community activities.
In order to improve cardiorespiratory and muscular functions, ensure healthy bones and reduce the risk of NCDs (non-communicable diseases) and depression, it is recommended that:
- Adults from 18 to 64 years old should dedicate at least 150 minutes a week to moderate aerobic activity, 75 minutes to vigorous physical activity each week, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activities.
- Aerobic activity should be divided between sessions of at least 10 minutes each.
- To obtain even more health benefits, adults in this age group are recommended to increase their moderate aerobic physical activity up to 300 minutes a week, their intense aerobic physical activity up to 150 minutes a week, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activity.
- Strengthening activities for the large muscle groups should be carried out two or more times a week.
– Older adults (65 years and over)
For adults of this age group, physical activity consists of recreational or leisure activities, moving around (e.g. walking or cycling trips), occupational activities (when the person is still working), housework, games, sports or exercises scheduled within the context of daily, family or community activities.
To improve cardiorespiratory and muscular functions, bone and functional health, and to reduce the risk of NCDs, depression and cognitive impairment, it is recommended that:
- Adults 65 years and over should spend 150 minutes a week doing moderate aerobic physical activity, some kind of vigorous aerobic physical activity for 75 minutes, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activity.
- The activity should be divided between sessions of at least 10 minutes each.
- To obtain greater health benefits, adults in this age group should dedicate up to 300 minutes a week to moderate aerobic physical activities, 150 minutes a week to vigorous aerobic physical activities, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous activity.
- It is also recommended that adults in this age group with reduced mobility should perform physical activities three days or more a week to improve their balance and prevent falls.
- It is advisable to carry out activities two or more days a week to strengthen the main muscle groups.
- When older adults cannot perform the recommended physical activity because of the state of their health, they should remain physically active to the extent that their condition allows.
You can find more information on these recommendations at:
- Aerobic and resistance activities:
Thirdly, in terms of our cardiovascular health, it is important to prioritise activities with higher levels of aerobic and resistance characteristics. Aerobic physical activities should last longer (at least 30 minutes), be of low intensity and should be done without interruptions, and the energy is obtained mainly from oxygen. Examples of these activities are going for a run, walking at a brisk pace, skating, cross-country skiing, cycling, dancing, rowing, etc. Aerobic exercise, with a resistance component, provides improvements to the cardiovascular, neuromuscular and metabolic systems (Fuster, Adrià and Corbella 2010:234-235).
Going for a run or walking at a brisk pace can, in many cases, be the most appropriate exercise; you can do these at times that suit you, you do not have to rely on anyone else, you do not have to sign up to the gym and, at the same time, they are among the most beneficial aerobic activities for your health. (Fuster, Adrià and Corbella, 2010: pp. 231).
- Adrià, F., Fuster, V., Corbella, J. (2010). La cocina de la salud. (Healthy Cooking, in Spanish). Barcelona. Planeta.
- Moreno, F. (2003). Promoción de estilos de vida saludables a través de la actividad físico-deportiva. (Promoting healthy lifestyles through physical and sporting activity, in Spanish). REEFD.
- WHO (2010). Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health.