Improve Your Physical Wellness in 2023 and Beyond
Scientifically, we refer to physical wellness as physical fitness which may be defined as the ability of our body systems to work together efficiently to allow one to perform daily activities. Today’s society is obsessed with being thin and we often associate being thin with being healthy or being physically fit. This is untrue, a thin person is not necessarily healthy or fit. Consequently, a mind shift is needed regarding what it means to be healthy and fit.
Forget about comparing yourself to others and even comparing yourself to scientific norms (BMI, fat percentage, etc.). Yes, you read right. Body mass index (BMI), often used by professionals, has been established from a white male European population as a general indicator of overweight and obesity. How can a multi-ethnic society consisting of both males and females measure ourselves against that? Every person is unique. Research has shown that the distribution of body fat may be more accurately described by waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio compared with BMI1. Therefore, rather use waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio to measure or track your weight.
The obsession with being thin also sparks the interest in taking up an exercise programme. Hence, there is a need to question our reasons or motivation to exercise. Exercising will definitely assist with weight loss, it is an added benefit, but the benefits are so much more than merely losing weight. In fact, you may even gain weight initially, depending on what type of exercise you partake in. Exercise is medicine, it is a proven fact. If we had a pill that conferred all the benefits of exercise, physicians would prescribe it to every patient. Engaging in exercise has a wide range of health benefits that include enhancing health parameters (thus preventing cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, insulin markers, etc.) improving mood, reducing stress, increasing energy and so much more.
So how do we start investing in our physical health? For disease risk reduction and health promotion, the American College of Sports Medicine2 recommends partaking in either 30-minutes of moderate exercise or 20-minutes of vigorous exercise for 5-days and 3-days, respectively. We are often overwhelmed by the idea of committing to a 20/30-min (or longer) exercise programme. Committing to an exercise programme is tough in itself, especially when one is already attempting to balance work and family life. The good news is that we shouldn’t feel intimidated to start exercising as it has been shown that by accumulating small bursts of physical activity throughout the day, it equates to the same health benefits of one continuous exercise session. This makes it less intimidating. Therefore, don’t underestimate playing with your kids outside, walking to the next building to submit a document, taking the stairs instead of using the lift… it’s the small things that add up. Once this foundation has been laid, it is much easier to start increasing the duration of exercise.
The type of exercise is also an important decision to make. If you choose an activity that is trendy (high intensity interval training, weight training, etc.) and you dislike it, the probability of sticking to it is very low. Choose something that you enjoy from the get go to increase future adherence. Exercise doesn’t necessarily mean going to the gym, instead take your colleagues for a game of squash during lunch or bring your rebounder (small trampoline) to work. There are many exercise forms to discover, don’t limit yourself to one. Lastly, exercise is not a quick fix, it is a lifestyle with an abundance of benefits, not just a remedy for weight loss. Don’t exercise to lose weight, exercise to enhance your quality of life and increase your lifespan.
-Dr Anneke van Biljon
Former Lecturer in the Department of Human Movement Science
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