Did you know that by standing up at work for just 10 minutes every hour could add years to your life? Niall Moyna, a health and fitness expert, at Dublin City University, says it could be the difference between a short life of ill health and a long and healthy existence.
“Our lifestyles have changed hugely in the last 100 years,” he says. “We evolved from hunter gathers. But with the Industrial Revolution, and more recently the Digital Revolution, we now spend far too long sitting each day and this is highly detrimental to our health and means we could die younger.”
There are many benefits of exercising he says. It reduces our chances of getting heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, osteopenia, back problems and depression both now and in the future. What’s more, if we don’t exercise, we are more likely to age faster and die younger, and it affects our weight. In fact 60 per cent of the Irish population are overweight and 27 per cent are obese – which are some of the highest stats in the western world.
According to Professor Moyna, Irish people have the wrong attitude towards exercise. Rather than seeing it as a chore or a hobby, we should view it as a way to heal and protect our bodies. “If we don’t exercise our quality of life will be significantly less, not just now but as we get older,” he says, emphasising that any form of exercise is better than no exercise.
So what can we do about it?
Just walking vigorously for 30 minutes a day every day of the year is enough to prevent or manage a host of health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, osteopenia, back problems and depression. It will also strengthen your muscles and your bones and will help to manage your weight.
Get out of the chair
We’re not made to be sedentary and sitting at a desk for long periods of time has now been proven to be highly detrimental to our health. But what can you do if you work in an office? “Stand up as often as possible,” says Professor Moyna. “Walk to the printer, make a cup of coffee, anything that gets you moving.” He also recommends standing or walking meetings when possible.
Exercise should be fun
To experience the long-term benefits, exercise must be done regularly, so find an activity that you enjoy and make it part of your daily routine.
Even a little bit of cardiovascular activity reduces the risk of heart disease in the future. “Cardio exercise is essential as it pumps oxygen to the heart which in turn supplies the muscles with oxygen,” says Professor Moyna. “It should be done in conjunction with resistance training to build the muscles.”
Exercise at your own intensity
There’s no point in doing exercise, which leaves you out of breath and exhausted because you won’t keep it up. “I advise people to self regulate their exercise and work out at a moderate to somewhat hard intensity,” says Professor Moyna. “You are more likely to continue it in the long run.”
No diet allows an individual to maintain weight loss in the long term says Professor Moyna. “What typically happens is that we regain all the weight back once we start eating normally. And Exercise alone is a waste of time if you want to lose weight,” he adds. “It will take you 23 minutes of walking to use up the calories in one can of coke.” The key he says is to balance calorie intake with exercise.
The maintenance of muscle mass is as important as cardio fitness. “We’re genetically programmed to lose muscle mass from the age of 30 on but with resistance training we can retain muscle mass well into our early 80s and 90s. This mean that when we do age, we have more strength and therefore more independence, which we all want as we get older.
“With the right combination of resistance training and cardio exercise throughout our life, we can add years,” he says. “It really is a no-brainer.”
About Professor Niall Moyna
Niall is a Professor in the School of Health and Human Performance and a member of the Centre for Preventive Medicine in Dublin City University. He is a leading expert in preventative health, and is well known for his TV appearances in Operation Transformation and Doctor in the House.