Most people who lead a more sedentary lifestyle are probably aware of the benefits of exercise. Why do so many people not exercise then? Figuring out why we seem so reluctant to hit the gym may help bring balance to the workplace when so many people work jobs which do not encourage much movement.
Physical activity is good for us. Scientists and medical professionals have urged people for years to get more exercise. The Australian Department of Health1 recommends varying levels of physical activity, including playtime and exercise based on age, including:
- Toddlers and preschoolers: At least 180 minutes (and more is better) of running, throwing, and playing throughout the day.
- School-aged children (to 17): At least 60 minutes a day of vigorous activity and several hours per day of light activity.
- Adults (18-64): Adults should be active every day of the week, and accumulate between 150 to 300 minutes of moderate activity per week or 75-150 minutes of vigorous activity (or some combination of both, noting that more is better).
- Older Adults (65+): At least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days (7 days/week is preferred).
The Daily Recommendations Aren’t
Happening For Most People
Unfortunately, even though we know what is recommended, many people do not follow through. Or, they make plans to exercise and start out strong, but then they eventually give in to excuses and stop doing it. In Australia, 55% of adults did not meet the above guidelines, and only 12% of children met the recommendations for physical activity.2
Physical activity is needed to keep our bodies healthy and happy. There is an abundance of research explaining how exercise can reduce cardiovascular disease, obesity, colon cancer and breast cancer.
Even with all this evidence, around 74% of people in the United States do not get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on the majority of days per week. Children are also becoming more sedentary in the US and other parts of the world, which can lead to the early onset of diseases including type II diabetes.3
The financial price of inactivity is already a factor for healthcare systems around the world. Figures dating back to 2013 estimate that physical inactivity costs us at least $50 billion worldwide, and these numbers are likely to continue to climb.4
A Brain Without Exercise Is A Brain Without Longevity
Besides the obvious benefits to our physical bodies, exercise offers many benefits for the brain. Physical activity has been shown to prevent or slow the loss of cognitive function we normally associate with aging.
As we get older, the cortex and the hippocampus tend to atrophy, which negatively impacts memory function. Neuroscience studies on older adults have shown that cognition and fitness level are linked, and fitter people tend to have healthier, higher-functioning brains. MRI studies have also found that prefrontal and temporal grey matter is higher in older, physically-active patients.5
Stress is another factor which plays a big part in our lives. Studies have shown an inverse relationship between physical activity and stress. The more we exercise, the lower our stress levels are likely to be. Other stress-management techniques like meditation and yoga can help keep us on track to meet physical activity goals.6
Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.
John F. Kennedy
So, why do people still not get enough exercise? The answer to this question is complicated, but scientists have shown factors including cost, access to childcare, low awareness, the fear of working out alone and the accessibility of appropriate facilities may deter people from exercising.
People who are economically disadvantaged are less likely to exercise the recommended amounts, even if community programs are available. One study in the UK found many people didn’t exercise because they didn’t have time after working one or more jobs, they didn’t want to leave their children with strangers or they didn’t feel confident enough to enter a gym or workout facility.7
Finding The Balance Between Activity And Inactivity
The cold, hard truth is that many are aware of the benefits of exercise and how much they should be moving, but they don’t. The reasons can be complicated, but most people can work in more motion during their days if they want to make a change. However, our physical and mental health demand that we stop sitting so much and start moving.
Things to remember include:
- Always talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before beginning an exercise program, especially if you are out of shape.
- Find something you love! Want to dance? Dancing is a fantastic way to burn calories and improve the health of both your body and mind. Love to rock climb? Look for a local group to join. Want to try a 5K? Download an app to help you meet your goals.
- Add in small amounts of exercise during the day. Skip the lift and run up the stairs. Keep a pair of comfortable sneakers in your desk and take a walk outside after lunch. Park further from the door of stores or restaurants so you squeeze in some extra steps. Take a break every hour or so to stretch and move your body at work.
Leaders who do not exercise enough are not going to be as physically or mentally fit to lead as their counterparts who do devote time each day to exercise. The i4 Neuroleader Program can help you meet your goals, both physically and mentally, to become the leader you were always meant to be!
1. Australian Government Department of Health. Population Health Division. Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines and the Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines, (2014, accessed 23 November 2019).
2. Physical activity Overview - Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, (accessed 23 November 2019).
3. Hillman CH, Erickson KI, Kramer AF. Be smart, exercise your heart: exercise effects on brain and cognition. Nat Rev Neurosci 2008; 9: 58–65.
4. Ding D, Lawson KD, Kolbe-Alexander TL, et al. The economic burden of physical inactivity: a global analysis of major non-communicable diseases. The Lancet 2016; 388: 1311–1324.
5. van Praag H. Exercise and the brain: something to chew on. Trends Neurosci 2009; 32: 283–290.
6. Stults-Kolehmainen MA, Sinha R. The effects of stress on physical activity and exercise. Sports Med 2014; 44: 81–121.
7. Withall J, Jago R, Fox KR. Why some do but most don’t. Barriers and enablers to engaging low-income groups in physical activity programmes: a mixed methods study. BMC Public Health 2011; 11: 507.