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World Physical Activity Day has been celebrated on April 6 since 2003. For the first time, countries represented at the World Health Assembly of the World Health Organization have unequivocally stated that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, diabetes or obesity. Physical activity was also recognized as a key tool to prevent and help treat these diseases. Physical activity became part of the Public Health agenda and it was determined that the “World Physical Activity Day” should be celebrated, raising the population’s awareness of physical activity as an effective and easy measure to prevent diseases and improve health.
The benefits of physical activity have been known for a long time. In Ancient Greece, one of the most famous physicians of antiquity – Hippocrates (460–370 BC) – said that “food and exercise work together to produce health”. There is evidence that exercise can help prevent and treat at least 26 diseases. In this list we find cardiovascular, neurological, metabolic, respiratory, musculoskeletal, psychiatric and neoplasms diseases. Exercise improves cardiorespiratory fitness, bone and muscle health, helps maintain a healthy weight, and preserves cognitive function and autonomy in older people.
But if all these reasons weren’t enough, there are many more to be physically active. And it’s not just because the “doctor ordered”. It is also why physical exercise makes us feel: “I feel good when I’m swimming”, “I feel more energetic when I run”, “I like to dance”, “I can walk longer now”, “I am able to cross the street”.
But what is physical activity? Is it something very complex and requires heavy logistics? No! It is any movement performed by the main muscles of the body, which results in energy expenditure above resting values. It could be walking to work, gardening, dancing or running. The concept of exercise comprises all the conscious practice of physical activity, normally planned and carried out with a specific objective, whether for example, running faster, gaining muscle mass or losing weight. Sport already involves organized play and competition.
Current World Health Organization recommendations for physical activity for adults are 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity. Most Portuguese, in all age groups, do not comply with these guidelines.
In 2016, the Directorate-General for Health created the National Program for the Promotion of Physical Activity, bringing health professionals closer to exercise. It is important that health professionals, whenever possible, ask about physical activity habits. In a sedentary person, every moment is an opportunity to influence, clarify and motivate the practice of physical exercise.
For those who are already physically active, contact with the healthcare professional should focus on long-term exercise maintenance and injury prevention. There are other times when support from a healthcare professional can be important, when there is an acute injury (eg, a muscle tear) or overload (eg, tendinopathy). It is important to treat the injury, allowing a return to exercise as soon as possible, but also safely, ensuring that there are no long-term complaints.
For those who want to go “beyond” and improve their sports performance, there is also a lot to intervene. A multidisciplinary team made up of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, podiatrists, nutritionists, sport psychologists and exercise physiologists can help improve performance and preserve the athlete’s health.
The World Health Organization recommends that “physical activity is good for the heart, body and mind”, stressing that “any amount of physical activity is better than none and more is better”. And it is important not to forget that all physical activity counts: walking, vacuuming the house, dancing, playing football with friends, cycling, running in the park, playing padel…
And why not start today?