Walking falls short

Those who think walking 10,000 steps a day means they are doing enough to stay fit are wrong, says a new review of the evidence from Public Health England, with taiji, weightlifting or ballroom dancing touted as important too.
Those who think walking 10,000 steps a day means they are doing enough to stay fit are wrong, says a new review of the evidence from Public Health England, with taiji, weightlifting or ballroom dancing touted as important too.PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

Strength and balance exercises like dancing also vital for health - but often neglected

Walking is just not enough, according to a new review of the evidence from Public Health England (PHE), which reveals a major disconnect between the exercise people need and what they actually do.

Those who thought 10,000 steps a day or a brisk daily trudge from a farther bus stop meant they were doing enough to stay fit and healthy have got it wrong.

People should also be doing taiji, weightlifting or ballroom dancing, although carrying home heavy shopping bags might do the trick.

Aerobic exercise, such as walking or gardening, is good for the heart and improves the circulation.

PHE's review said that muscle and bone strengthening and balance activities are also vital for health and future well-being, but they are neglected.

In older adults, poor muscle strength increased the risk of a fall by 76 per cent, PHE said.

Strengthening and balance activities not only help prevent falls, but also help improve mood and sleeping patterns, increase energy levels and reduce the risk of an early death.

The best forms of exercise, according to the review of evidence, are ball games, racket sports, dance, Nordic walking and resistance training - usually training with weights, but including body-weight exercises which can be performed anywhere.

"People's understanding of walking more and doing aerobic activity and keeping up the heart rate has grown, but the need for us all to do two sessions of strength and balance exercise a week has been the Cinderella of public health advice," said Ms Louise Ansari from the Centre for Ageing Better.

Walking has become increasingly popular. But fewer people have taken on board the need to stand more and sit less, and muscle strengthening and balance have been largely forgotten.

According to the Health Survey for England in 2016, 66 per cent of men and 58 per cent of women met the aerobic guideline - 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.

But only 31 per cent of men and 23 per cent of women also did muscle-strengthening exercise, and that fell to 12 per cent of those over age 65.

Muscles tend to be at their peak in our 30s, said Ms Ansari, and the muscle tone is going by the time we reach 40, unless we actively work on it.

The best forms of exercise, according to the review of evidence, are ball games, racket sports, dance, Nordic walking and resistance training - usually training with weights, but including body-weight exercises which can be performed anywhere.

These exercise both arms and legs, strengthening muscles and helping us keep our balance.

In Nordic walking, for instance, two poles are used. Ms Ansari said the type of exercise required depends on a person's fitness.

She said: "If you are a reasonably fit adult and you do walking, you should also do yoga or taiji or racket sports or resistance training, which could be in a structured exercise class. You can do two long sessions a week."

But exercise does not have to be in a gym, she added. "You can also make sure you go up and down stairs a lot instead of taking the lift. That is resistance training."

Dance of all sorts is good for muscles and balance, from folk to salsa to ballroom.

The advice is not just for the elderly. "Alongside aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, all adults should be aiming to do strengthening and balancing activities twice per week," said Dr Alison Tedstone, head of diet, obesity and physical activity at PHE.

"On average, we're all living longer and this mixture of physical activities will help us stay well in our youth and remain independent as we age."

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2018, with the headline 'Walking falls short'. Print Edition | Subscribe