Physical Need 3 - Physical Activity

Many of us are experiencing just a fraction of our physical health and fitness potential because we fail to get enough high quality physical activity.  For example an estimated 32 per cent of the British population are completely sedentary - that is they participate in no regular exercise whatsoever. What’s more according to another survey in 1998, almost 45% of men and 51% of women 65-74 years were sedentary. This proportion increased to 64% of men and 72% of women over 75 years.


It appears for most of us, getting and keeping fit can be a real struggle. However the good news is with a bit of motivation, a bit of knowledge and planning that can all change.


What Counts As Physical Activity?


I prefer to talk about physical activity, as opposed to exercise, because the latter has negative connotations for quite a few people, plus the words ‘physical activity’ more accurately conveys the truth that it is our physical activity level that counts when it comes to total emotional well-being. While most people tend to associate physical activity and exercise with jogging and swimming as the best ways to get fit, there are many more, including brisk walking, rebounding (mini-trampoline), climbing stairs, yoga, pilates, cycling, gardening, weeding, mowing, raking, vacuuming, sweeping, dancing, playing golf, painting, decorating and, of course, sex. The key as far as emotional health is concerned is to include a variety of different types of physical activity that cover the three main types of exercise:


  1. Aerobic training – this helps to improve the health of the heart and circulation system and maintain optimum weight. Examples include jogging, brisk walking, cycling, swimming or rebounding (using a mini-trampoline)
  2. Weight-training or strength-training – this increases metabolic rate (therefore helps with weight loss), improves muscle strength and co-ordination and prevents osteoporosis. Examples include weight training, climbing stairs, push ups, sit ups, using resistance bands and cycling.
  3. Flexibility or stretching exercises improve overall range-of-movement, mobility and coordination. Examples include Yoga and Pilates.


The Benefits of Physical Activity


Daily physical activity is essential to the health of your mind, the quality of your mood and to preventing future health-related problems. You may find it surprising to discover for example, that physical activity levels have been found to be more important than body weight in determining a person’s risk of death. For example, a study of 906 women showed that activity, or lack of it, was the biggest predictor of heart disease. The women were given angiograms to detect heart disease. They were assessed for weight and body mass index (a measure of obesity), with 76 per cent being overweight and of those 41 per cent obese. However, those risk factors did not result in more heart disease. Instead, the least active women showed the most evidence of heart disease. Weight did not matter. They also found that moderate levels of physical activity were sufficient to lower the risk of death from all causes. It is therefore better to be slightly overweight and fit, than lean and unfit. What’s more, regular physical activity can help release stored psychological and emotional tension, increase stress resilience, stimulate the production of new brain cells and inter brain cell connections, increase feelings of self-worth and self-confidence, balance hormones, prevent and stabilize insulin resistance, reduce body fat, increase bone mass, and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, hip fractures and breast cancer. Research published in September in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that even walking appears to have a significant benefit. A study of men ages 71 to 93 showed that those who walked less than a quarter of a mile a day were nearly twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia as those who walked more than two miles daily.


When it comes to mood exercise is a potent anti-depressant.


  • One study compared the effectiveness of exercise alone, versus psychotropic medication and medication plus exercise on relieving the symptoms of people with major depressive disorder. After four and a half months of treatment, clients receiving all three of these treatments were significantly less depressed and about two-thirds were no longer depressed. Six months after the study concluded, the clients were followed up. Researchers found that clients who had been in the exercise group were more likely to be partially or fully recovered than those who were in the medication or medication plus exercise group.
  • In one systematic review of over eighty studies, researchers found that exercise was a highly beneficial antidepressant both in the short and long term. What’s more whilst exercise helps to reduce the symptoms of depression in all populations studies, it was of most benefit to those who were identified as being the most physically and psychologically unhealthy at the start of the study.


Tips for Improving Your Physical Activity Level & Fitness


  • Get the green light to exercise. As a general rule of thumb if you are over the age of 50, haven’t exercised before or have a serious or debilitating medical condition always check with your GP before exercising and then have an exercise programme prescribed for you, by someone who is trained to provide one.
  • Focus on the benefits. Write down five reasons why you would benefit from taking daily physical activity.
  • Get motivated. Most people don’t exercise regularly because they haven’t made it a priority in their lives and because they haven’t yet established exercise as a habit. Here are some suggestion to get you started: partner up with a motivated friend, someone who you can exercise with; join and attend (this the most important bit) a running, cycling, swimming or similar activity based club; employ a personal trainer, commit to walking/running on behalf of a charity. This can provide you with a lot of motivation.
  • Choose your physical activities. Make a list of all of the possible physical activities that you could realistically do. Include a mix of aerobic activity (such as running, swimming), strength training (with weights, resistance bands, push-ups) and flexibility exercises (such as yoga, qi gong, pilates).
  • Honour your body and fitness level. If you haven’t exercised for a while start gradually with walking, increasing to brisk walking, then jogging and, if appropriate, running. Most gyms have personal trainers who will create a tailored programme for you. Consider this as an option, particularly if lack of motivation or inexperience is a factor for you.
  • Aim for between 30 and 45 minutes of physical activity every day. If this is not possible start with three times a week and take it from there. It’s important to set yourself a realistic target. The UK government recommends a minimum of 30 minutes for adults, and 60 minutes for children, of moderate-intensity physical activity on at least 5 days of the week.
  • Plan the next week ahead in a diary or journal. Write down exactly what activities you are going to do on which days. For example, Monday – brisk walk to and from work, Tuesday – swim after work, Wednesday – yoga after work, Thursday – brisk walk to and from work, Friday – weight training and push-ups before work, Saturday – gardening, Sunday – walk in countryside with family.
  • Try the talk test. When doing aerobic exercise you should aim for moderate intensity. One way to gauge this is with the ‘talk test’: exercise hard enough to break into a sweat, but not so hard that you can’t carry on a conversation.
  • Exercise Mindfully. When you do any physical activity try keeping your full attention within your body, focus on your breathing and relax into the movements of your body. This will help you access a state of flow and improved performance.
  • Get Creative. If you struggle to find time to exercise, try the following: park your car 15 minutes walk away from your place of work, and walk into work, take the stairs, rather than the escalator or lift, go for a brisk 30 minute walk at lunch time, throw a Frisbee around, play running games in your garden with your kids, walk whenever you can rather than drive, consider buying a bicycle and cycling to work.
  • Use a pedometer. A useful way to monitor your activity levels and give yourself the motivation to get active is to attach a pedometer to your clothing. This measures how many steps you take. The target for most people is 10,000.
  • Consider Interval Training. Once you are in an established routine of aerobic exercise – for example you comfortably run for 30 minutes five times a week, the next stage is to change the way you train so you continue to challenge your body. For example, you can increase the duration of the exercise, say from 30 to 45 minutes, five times a week, or change the way you exercise, by exercising in bouts of increasing intensity and shortened duration. For example once you are established on 30 minutes five times a week, change each of those individual sessions so that they become two 10-minute sessions of greater intensity, with a 5-minute break in between.

Now move onto Physical Need 4 - Sleep

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