What Impacts Your Health Most?

Elderly woman exercising with dumbbells.

Elderly woman exercising with dumbbells.

If you want to improve your health, exercise. Regardless of your weight, research has found that exercise has more impact than dieting on people’s general health.

Even among people who are obese, those who exercise regularly have a lower death rate than both obese and slender people who do not exercise.

“Recent evidence is telling us that inactivity is a bigger epidemic than obesity, and even in people who are overweight, moving is protective of their health,” sports physician Dr Chris Hanna.

Dr Hanna says that obese people with a body mass index (BMI) of over 30 who are not fit have a rate of 62 deaths per 10,000 people years. Obese people who are moderately fit have a much lower rate of 18 deaths per 10,000 people years.

“Fifty per cent of our health status depends on behaviour; whether we move around or whether we sit down, the type of food we eat and the type of sleep we get. Over the last 30 years the average weight of people living on Planet Earth has skyrocketed. More than 25 per cent of the population in Australia and New Zealand has a body mass index over 30. It’s being called globesity.”

Dr Hanna says that while exercise clearly has a protective effect on the health of obese people, it is also true that they are at slightly higher risk of heart attack when they first begin a new exercise regime, which is why it is important to start gradually.

He says “moderately fit” is at least 150 minutes of rhythmic aerobic activity per week, including walking, cycling and swimming. But people who wish to actually lose weight should do 200-300 minutes of moderate exercise and eat a healthy diet as well.

While this sounds to some like a daunting challenge, activity can be broken up into several short increments. It is also important to note that any activity is better than no activity, so if your activity level is on the low end of the scale, persist and increase in small amounts. Take any opportunity to move. Long term, you will be healthier for it.