The Importance of Physical Activity and Exercise after COVID-19
Wednesday 22nd September is National Fitness Day, a campaign that aims to highlight the importance of physical activity and the vital role it plays in living a healthier lifestyle.
There has been an increased emphasis on physical activity and its benefits to your health and well-being in the last ten years. However, due to COVID restrictions, physical activity behaviours have changed in the last 18 months. Recent research reported that the lockdown had a negative impact on people’s motivation to eat healthily, with participants reporting increased snacking and a decline in mental health. The study also identified that those who had a higher BMI before COVID-19 were less likely to maintain a healthy weight and take part in the limited exercise options available.
Many of us had to manage and compete for time and space in our own homes during this time. With working from home and inappropriate workstations, there was little space to do physical activity or exercise. With access to outdoor spaces and leisure facilities restricted, this further reduced opportunities to be physically active.
So, let’s go back to basics…
What is physical activity?
- Physical Activity: The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines physical activity as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. Physical activity refers to all movement, including during leisure time, for transport to get to and from places or as part of a person’s work.
- Exercise: The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) define it as the structured application of exercise to improve physical components such as cardiovascular function, strength, and muscle endurance.
How much physical activity should I be doing?
For adults aged 18-64:
- The WHO recommends 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week.
- Both the WHO and NHS recommend performing some form of resistance training at least two times per week.
For those with medical conditions, you will need to discuss your options with your GP and who can refer you to the appropriate services.
Why is physical activity so important?
Physical activity can help manage various conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, as well as improve energy levels and help you maintain a healthy weight. Here are just a few of the benefits:
- Improved functional capacity: Physical activity can improve how well we move and are able to do everyday tasks. Sedentary behaviour can result in poor posture and increase muscle tension in affected areas, impacting our ability to work or participate in leisure activities.
- Reduces your risk of musculoskeletal injuries: There is always a risk of injury, from rolling your ankle whilst coming down a flight of stairs or participating in family games or sports. However, having a solid level of fitness and mobility can reduce the likeliness of this.
- Reduces your risk of fall-related injuries: Physical activity reduces the chances of fall-related injuries due to improved physical mobility, including severe falls requiring hospitalisation.
The information above may appear like a jumble of words – so, what do they actually mean?
How do I get started?
Take time to walk: Walk to work or your local park. Grab your headphones and take 15 minutes and go for a brisk walk. Do this twice a day, and you will quickly meet the recommended guidelines.
Invite a Friend
Consider inviting a friend for a walk or attending a fitness class in your local area. Being physically active with someone else can improve motivation and help develop new, healthy habits.
Check your Health
If you have not had a check-up recently, go and see your GP. Alternatively, see if you can access community schemes that provide a ‘Health Check’ service.
Consider using your smartphone to help set small targets, such as step counting and calories burned. Starting with small achievable targets can help with motivation – especially when we first start!
Know your limits and gradually increase your pace over time. Begin with light to medium effort, and make sure to take time to warm up and cool down
Where can I find further support?
Whether you need a bit of guidance to get you back into physical activity, or if you’re someone who has never considered physical activity previously, OneLife Suffolk’s Get Help To Get Active programme is here to support you.ri
This free programme supports those with long-term conditions to increase their physical activity levels safely and effectively through weekly exercise sessions. Whilst helping you find an activity you enjoy, the programme also provides support around key health and well-being topics such as healthy eating, overcoming barriers, and staying motivated.
The following articles will explore physical activity in more detail to provide further guidelines and tackle other important health and well-being topics.
Richard Edrich, Cert Ed, MSc
Healthy Lifestyles Manager, OneLife Suffolk
 Robinson, E., Gillespie, S., & Jones, A. (2020). Weight‐related lifestyle behaviours and the COVID‐19 crisis: An online survey study of UK adults during social lockdown. Obesity Science & Practice, 6(6), 735–740. https://doi.org/10.1002/osp4.442
 Robinson, E., Gillespie, S., & Jones, A. (2020).
 Physical activity. (2020, November 26). Www.Who.Int. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity
 ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription by American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) 9th (ninth) Edition (2/1/2013) (Ninth ed.). (2021). Lippincott Williams and Wilkins; 9th revised North American ed edition (1 Feb. 2013).
 Physical Activity, WHO (2020)
 Dipietro, L., Campbell, W. W., Buchner, D. M., Erickson, K. I., Powell, K. E., Bloodgood, B., Hughes, T., Day, K. R., Piercy, K. L., Vaux-Bjerke, A., & Olson, R. D. (2019). Physical Activity, Injurious Falls, and Physical Function in Aging: An Umbrella Review. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 51(6), 1303–1313. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001942