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You don’t have to wear lycra to be active

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Australians are being encouraged to get off the couch and exercise for an hour a day in order to get and stay healthy.

The updated advice, prepared by the Federal Health Department, says Australians should aim for 60 minutes of exercise each day, doubling the amount of activity formerly recommended, and well above that stipulated in international guidelines.

The recommendation, contained in Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines (http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines), is aimed at preventing unhealthy weight gain and reducing the risk of some cancers.

It is based on evidence showing physical inactivity is the second-greatest contributor to Australia’s cancer burden, behind smoking. Research has shown that switching from a sedentary lifestyle to undertaking at least 30 minutes of exercise each day can cut the risk of heart disease by up to 40 per cent.

The guidelines also encourage people to avoid prolonged periods of sitting, and to participate in muscle strengthening activities at least twice a week.

Lead author Professor Wendy Brown said people needed to aim for between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise – that is, activity that takes some effort but at an intensity that allows you to talk – each week.

“If you are currently meeting the previous guideline of 150 minutes per week, you should be looking at increasing that up to 300 minutes per week,” Professor Brown said.

“If you prevent weight gain, you prevent diabetes, cardiovascular disease and several cancers as well.”

Professor Brown said the new guidelines were more flexible, pointing out that people can do either moderate or vigorous exercise. For those short on time, undertaking more vigorous activity can roughly halve the time needed to be spent exercising to achieve the same health benefit.

Only 50 per cent of Australians were meeting the previous guideline of 30 minutes of exercise per day, but Professor Brown said this should not detract from the importance of the message.

“We all make choices about how we spend our time,” Professor Brown said. “It’s a question of prioritising what’s important.

“It is achievable. It’s not as if no-one is doing this.”

Associate Professor Trevor Shilton from the Heart Foundation said activity can be broken into 10 to 15 minute stints. He said it can include formal exercise and sport, but walking to the supermarket or walking the dog also count.

“You don’t have to wear lycra,” Associate Professor Shilton said.

The guidelines recommend that toddlers and pre-schoolers should be active for at least three hours every day.

Children aged between five and 12 years should accrue at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each day, and should include muscle strengthening activities at least three days a week.

The guidelines also recommend children’s screen time (time on computers, smart phones, tablets and watching television) should be limited to two hours a day, and sitting time should be broken up as much as possible.

Teenagers up to 17 years of age should achieve a total of at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day, including aerobic exercise and strength training.

The updated guidelines can be viewed at:  http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines

Kirsty Waterford