Being physically active is critical for health and well-being, especially in an age when the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has curtailed outdoor activities to a great extent. It is in this context that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has released new physical activity guidelines recommending that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity weekly. The tips gain more relevance as being overweight or obese has been associated with an increased risk of severe illness and hospitalisation from Covid-19. The previous recommendation was that healthy adults in the 18 to 64 age group do either at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or minimum 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. The new recommendations include people living with chronic conditions or a disability.
As WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a news release: “Every move counts, especially now as we manage the constraints of the Covid-19 pandemic. We must all move every day – safely and creatively.” WHO has a few core principles in mind: Everyone can benefit from being more active than sedentary. Doing some physical activity, no matter what it is, is better than doing none. Start small and slow and increase the frequency, intensity and duration over time. Physical activity is equally good for mental wellbeing too, as experts attest.
Children up to 17 need at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise each day, according to the new recommendations. The activities should be mostly aerobic, such as jogging or biking. Activities that strengthen muscle and bone are necessary, too. For adults up to age 64, getting at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, or minimum 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, per week can reduce the risk for early death, heart disease, hypertension, cancer and Type 2 diabetes, the report said.
The guidelines also recommend that older adults, ages 65 and older, do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 or 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise throughout the week. Exercises that strengthen all muscles should be done at least twice weekly. The same guidance goes for older adults, as much as they can – but they should prioritise balance and strength training a few days per week. Those can help prevent falls and related injuries, as well as declines in bone health and ability.
A healthy lifestyle is still possible even if one has chronic conditions, the WHO report stressed. Among people with diseases like cancer and heart disease, physical activity can reduce the risk for early death, disease progression and poor quality of life. As much as they are able, people with chronic conditions should do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate aerobics per week or at least 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous aerobics weekly. A few times per week, they should do strengthening and balance exercises to enhance their abilities to function well and prevent falls.
For children with physical or intellectual disabilities, the main guidelines for children without disabilities apply – if the benefits outweigh any possible risks, according to their paediatrician or disability specialist. Activity can especially benefit those with conditions that impair cognitive function, such as attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder. For adults with disabilities, activity can improve physical and cognitive function, strength and quality of life. The guidelines for adults apply to adults with disabilities as well. After all, our skeletons were designed to move.
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