With studies showing almost half of Australia’s adult population are inactive, it appears many of us are content to watch people exercise, but not do it ourselves. As a sports-loving nation, our perspective is that of spectator, not participant. The only podium finish we’ll attain is on the “Biggest Loser”!
In Australia, 30 per cent of adult men and 37 per cent of adult women do not engage in enough physical activity to maintain their health, let alone improve it.
Our everyday lives are inactive, due to an ill-conceived devotion to convenience and energy- and time-saving devices, such as remote controls, escalators, lifts, home-delivery and drive-through. People merely move from one seat to the next between home and work.
We eat cake while someone washes our car at car-wash cafe; we’re entertained in a cinema-style lounge without leaving home; we order a fatty meal from a fast-food restaurant staying seated in the car.
Being sedentary and inactive is dangerous. The National Heart Foundation now rates inactivity in the same class as smoking and high-blood pressure as a major risk factor for heart disease.
It’s estimated that around half of the physical decline associated with getting older is because of inactivity. What’s more, a sedentary lifestyle is a major contributing factor to the high levels of overweight and obesity.
Even children are developing lifestyle-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes due to poor diet, and an inactive lifestyle more focused on playing computer games than playing sport.
Get off the couch
It’s time to turn off the TV, get on your feet and get moving. Don’t let outdated beliefs like “no pain, no gain” or the thought that you may need hours of daily exercise dissuade you from getting into shape.
If you are just starting out, you need only small amounts of activity to benefit your health. You don’t have to train like an elite athlete to look better and feel great.
Health risks for couch potatoes
- Reduced heart and lung function
- Reduced mobility from stiff joints and muscle
- Increased blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Increased risk of osteoporosis
- Increased risk of suffering mental and health problems
- Increasedrisk for diseases, such as heart attack, stroke and diabetes.
How much is enough?
The exact amount of exercise you need depends upon your age, gender, weight, fitness level, sleep patterns, injury history and diet. It also depends strongly upon on your health and fitness goals. For example, people who want to lose body fat may require different strategies to someone who wants to build muscle. That’s why there’s so much conflicting advice about exercise and fitness training.
If you want to stay healthy, lose body fat and improve cardiovascular health, it’s now recommended accumulating 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity physical activity on most days of the week. But that certainly won’t help you win a gold medal. It may help to speak with your doctor, or consult an exercise specialist to find out what exercise program would benefit you most.
How much is too much?
While there’s no doubt exercise is beneficial for your health, you can get too much of a good thing. For example, moderate exercise decreases the risk of upper respiratory tract infections; but heavy physical training can increase the risk of catching colds and flu. When people exercise too hard or too often, pushing beyond the body’s ability to recover, they are said to be overtraining.
Are you overtraining?
If you suspect you are pushing yourself too hard, be alert to the warning signs. Fatigue, injury and staleness are most common. Lack of variety in training is another thing to look out for. It may help to get an objective assessment of your training schedule by a fitness expert. A doctor can also help to determine if the symptoms you are suffering are from too much exercise or from other causes.
The most effective treatment for overtraining is rest, and the longer that you have overtrained, the more rest you require. Start with three to five days and see if you feel refreshed. While it might seem difficult to take a break from your training schedule, stopping completely is the only way your body can recover both physically and mentally.
Be sure to drink plenty of fluids, and eat a healthy, well balanced diet full of nutrient rich foods to supply all the vitamins and minerals you need for recovery.
And when you get back into training, add a little variety to your routine, and plan a routine that works different muscle groups on alternate days. This will also help to prevent boredom and staleness.
Wanring signs of overtraining
- Sleeping difficulty
- Sudden weight loss
- Reduced appetite
- Muscle pain and joint soreness
- Increased injuries or illness
- Reduction in performance
- Mood swings, irritability or depression
- Lack of energy or enthusiasm for sport
Strike a balance
While the dangers of being a couch potato are obvious, it’s important to ease yourself into an active lifestyle, otherwise you may be risking illness from overtraining. Allow yourself at least one or two rest days each week, and vary the type, intensity, frequency and duration of your activity. Try to include activities you enjoy to give initial encouragement and reinforcement and to prevent boredom over the long term.
Before you begin training
- Get medical clearance. If over 40, have a history of health problems or been inactive, see a doctor first.
- Go easy at the start. Avoid soreness by starting with a short, easy sessions of exercise; build up your duration and intensity gradually.
- Warm up and cool down. Follow a good warm up and cool down routine to prevent injuy, and chills.
- Get instruction. A doctor or ditness instructor can advise you on the best type of activities to suit your needs, such as heart health or fitness.
- Stop for pain or discomfort. Don't push your body through pain. A little burn is good, but for the unfit, pain is a warning sign; stop immediately.
- Drink water. You are going to be sweating more, so drink a little more to replace lost fluids.