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by Peter Edwards,

Yoga class

It’s been said time and time again: being physically active will reduce your likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, cancer as well as other chronic health conditions like kidney disease, depression and musculoskeletal disorders.

In fact, in blogs past, we’ve emphasised that some activity is better than none, and more is better than less right here. Sound familiar?

Focusing on the immediate benefits of physical activity, such as relaxation, reduced anxiety, and improvements in mood and vitality, can be far better than narrowing in on the medical or health benefits of exercise which may not occur until weeks, months or even years down the track. This is summarised really well in a research article here.

In 2018, a panel of physical activity experts from the US dropped their updated physical activity guidelines. These guidelines involve a rigorous review of research from the last 10 years by a panel consisting of 17 experts. The findings are then summarised into key messages for us all to understand.

The latest guidelines emphasise that physically active individuals sleep better, feel better, and function better.

That’s not to say that the benefits of physically activity in chronic disease prevention are not valid, because they certainly are! But the refreshing aspect of these guidelines is that they also state the immediate benefits of physical activity. A single bout of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity will reduce blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity, improve sleep, improve your mood and feeling of wellbeing, reduce anxiety symptoms, and improve your ability to think on the very day that it is performed. 

Looking into these major findings a bit closer: 

  • SLEEP benefits: Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (that is, activity that gets you puffing and sweaty) improves sleep quality. It does so by reducing the length of time it takes to get to sleep and reducing the time one is awake after going to sleep and before arising in the morning. It also can increase the time in deep sleep... which all up can reduce daytime sleepiness.
  • THINK benefits: Single episodes of physical activity improve your ability to think properly! This includes the processes of the brain that organise daily activities, plan for the future and control your emotions. Physical activity also improves other components of cognition, including memory, processing speed, attention, and academic performance.
  • MOOD benefits: Regular physical activity not only reduces the risk of clinical depression but also reduces depressive symptoms among people both with and without clinical depression. Regular physical activity reduces symptoms of anxiety, including both chronic levels of anxiety as well as the acute feelings of anxiety felt by many people in particularly stressful situations.
  • FUNCTIONAL benefits: Physical activity improves physical function among individuals of all ages, enabling them to conduct their daily lives with energy and without fatigue or difficulty. This is especially true for older adults, for whom improved physical function not only reduces risk of falls and fall-related injuries but contributes to their ability to maintain independence. But this is also true for young and middle-aged adults, as improved physical function enhances the ability to perform tasks of daily living, such as climbing stairs and lifting things around the house.

Focusing on the short-term benefits of physical activity may motivate you to keep active.

My top tip, find an activity that is fun for you, makes you feel good, gets you functioning better and improves your sleep, and your long-term health will take care of itself.  

Keep on moving,


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