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Is physical activity the new basic need?

I can hear the panting and the sighs all around me. I attempt to keep the pace of the person in front of me. It appears like everyone is trying to keep up with the person in front of them. Various physical fitness activities are going on around; walking, sit-ups, cycling and jogging. Some people are dressed in hoods and tracksuits while others are in various mix & match sportswear. The ladies appear to be greater in numbers, more motivated and determined than the men. Some are constantly checking their wristwatches/fit bits probably to establish how many minutes or miles they have covered. The numbers seem more than usual. Surprisingly, the kids, mostly teenagers, have not been left behind in all this, they can be seen working out actively alongside their parents/guardians.

Business unusual

It is about 7.00 am and the roads are not busy…quite unusual! You can only spot one vehicle at a time on the Nairobi Southern Bypass Highway. Where did all the vehicles go or is it not the right timing or is it late? It is on a weekday, but it appears to be a weekend. Normally, the idea of jogging in the morning would not have been considered a habit for many including myself.

Since December 2019, the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has massively spread leading to overwhelmed health care systems and numerous deaths worldwide. To remedy this, several countries, including Kenya, took strict lockdown measures around Mid-March 2020, requiring the closure of all but essential businesses. This unprecedented disruption of daily routines had a strong potential for disrupting physical behaviours.

A pandemic of this magnitude has never been seen since the Spanish Influenza during the First World War. It has generated dramatic economic, social and individual lifestyle challenges around the world due to a mandatory lockdown that happened worldwide to contain the transmission of COVID-19.

Sedentary living

The lockdown contributed to unhealthy lifestyle habits in a large portion of the population that if prolonged in the long term, could have increased the burden of lifestyle disease and also have an effect on immunity. It also, however, provided an opportunity for some people to deliberately initiate activities in areas of physical exercises and nutrition choices that would improve their health as a measure to improve the overall immunity system in order to be better placed to fight diseases and more specifically Covid-19. This was due to the sedentary living adapted during the lock down and working from home, where someone was confined to their home with limited movements.

According to a post by World Health Organization (WHO) on 23rd February 2018, physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. This includes activities undertaken while working, playing, carrying out household chores, travelling, and engaging in recreational pursuits(Word Health Organisation, 2018). Exercise is a form of physical activity that is specifically planned, structured, and repetitive. The main sources of health-enhancing physical activities encompass normal and simple activities such as walking, cycling, manual labour, swimming, skiing, hiking, gardening, recreational sport, and dancing.

Moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity

There are a number of ways to categorize physical activity and inactivity related to intensity or expenditure of energy. A comfortable way of gaining health benefits is by engaging in moderate-intensity physical activity carried out regularly. Moderate-intensity physical activity is the type of activity that raises the heartbeat and leaves you feeling warm and slightly out of breath. For most people, this is activity equivalent to a brisk walk, and means that the metabolism is raised to at least three times its resting level, known as three metabolic equivalents (WHO, 2007). Vigorous intensity physical activities are activities like running or fast cycling, if they are fast enough to work up a sweat and get you out of breath. Vigorous intensity activity raises the metabolism to at least six times its resting level. Vigorous intensity activities are usually achieved through sport or exercise (WHO, 2007).

WHO recommends at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily for Children and adolescents aged 5-17years; at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week for Adults aged 18years and above.

Regular physical activity of moderate intensity – such as walking, cycling, or doing sports – has significant benefits for health. At all ages, the benefits of being physically active outweigh potential harm, for example through accidents. Some physical activity is better than doing none. By becoming more active throughout the day in relatively simple ways, people can quite easily achieve the recommended activity levels(Word Health Organisation, 2018).

Regular and adequate levels of physical activity:
  • improve muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness;
  • improve bone and functional health;
  • reduce the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, various types of cancer (including breast cancer and colon cancer), and depression;
  • reduce the risk of falls as well as hip or vertebral fractures; and
  • are fundamental to energy balance and weight control.

It is widely believed that exercise is healthy for us, but a high number of people beginning exercises programs drop out within the first six months. “Lack of time, inconvenience, expense, physical discomfort, embarrassment, poor instruction, inadequate support, and loss of interest” are the most widely cited reasons for dropping out of an exercise program.

It is important to take ownership of your personal physical activity plan, as ownership instills commitment.

“Those who think they have no time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” — Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby, 1873. With this, we have a choice to make; whether to exercise regularly or create time for illnesses. Where will you stand?

For additional information, refer to the following materials:

 

Douglas, D., Kin, B., & Ed, B. (n.d.). Developing Physical Activity Habit in Schools for Active Lifestyle. 42.

WHO. (2007). Steps to Health. A Euroopean framework to promote physical activity for health.

Word Health Organisation. (2018, February 23). Physical activity. Word Health Organisation.

 

This article was written by Neville I. Nyakundi, People & Culture Business Partner – Academics.

 

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2021!

 

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