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How can we improve our physical activity levels?

In this video, we get some advice from Senior Research Physiotherapist, Sarah Moore and Health Psychologist, Dr Leah Avery on how to keep active.
Each individual that we see as a physiotherapist will have specific problems that you will want to tailor their physical activity programme to. And they’ll also have things that they enjoy doing and things that they don’t enjoy doing as much. So you really want to be thinking about what can they do with regards to what their limitations are, and also what do they want to do, and building that into their daily routine. There’s a difference between physical activity and exercise, and this is something important to think about when you’re working with any individual. Physical activity is an umbrella term, and exercise fits underneath that umbrella. Physical activity is generally anything that increases your energy expenditure.
So it could be walking to the shops, it could be walking up and down the stairs. Exercise fits under that umbrella of physical activity and it’s a lot more structured. So as a physio, we might be working with someone who had problems with arthritis in their knee and we might specifically want to be working on their muscle strength. And this would specifically be exercise because we’d be looking at what things we could do to try and increase that muscle strength, so through repetition, through changing the load on that joint. There’s different elements of exercise. There’s your cardiorespiratory exercise, there’s your muscle strengthening, and there’s your muscle power as well. And exercise is a lot more structured than physical activity.
So we may well set an exercise goal that might be to do a number of repetitions at a moderate intensity. Whereas a physical activity goal might be more general, and it might be just to walk to the local shop a couple of times a day. A more tailored functional activity might be that you’re specifically working on someone’s muscle strength, say, in their quadriceps, in their thigh muscles. So you’re really wanting to work on that specific functional impairment, and then you’re hoping that through increasing the strength of the muscles in their thigh, that this may well lead on to them being able to be more physically active over the day. And it’s a bit of a vicious circle.
If you’ve got reduced muscle strength in the leg, you might be less likely to be physically active, so it’s tying the two together, really. It’s making sure that they have the strength to get up on their feet and then through getting up on their feet, it will have built their strength. It’s good for people to go to the gym, say, three times a week and work on their cardiovascular system. But they also need to be thinking about what they’re doing the other 23 and 1/2 hours a day. So they need to be thinking about breaking up big bouts of sedentary time, so big amounts of time sitting, with getting up, walking around, working the vascular system, improving your metabolism.
And that’s a big research field into sedentary behaviour and the many effects that this can lead to. If I were to give people three tips on being physically active, the first would be do something that you enjoy. You need to choose an activity that is suited to you that you enjoy, because otherwise you won’t be motivated to continue with it. Often it’s really useful to pair up with someone.
So if, for example, your husband or your wife has similar interests as you, for example, if you both like going to the allotment, or if you both like going for walks, then actually, it’ll be a lot easier to motivate yourself if also that other person is motivating you too and you’re working as a team. So a buddy system. Really thinking about what you do in every day and trying to think about how you can fit a little bit more physical activity within your daily patterns, without actually it taking anything away from what you’re achieving.
So, for example, if you are driving to see a friend, maybe parking a little bit further away from your friend’s house and then having to walk to that friend’s house rather than just parking at the door. There are many reasons why some people are successful with change in their behaviours and others that aren’t. But I think the people who have the most success with behaviour change are those who have a very good idea of why they want to make that change in the first place.
So they generally have some type of motivating factor for why they want to do it, and they have some type of activity in mind, for example, and an idea of how they’re going to put that activity into place. Those, on the other hand, who are less successful have a very vague idea about all of those things. Goal setting has shown to be very useful when trying to increase our levels of activity. The reason for that is that we have a good sense of what we’re trying to achieve, how we’re trying to achieve it, and what we hope to get out of it at the other end.
So anybody who is trying to increase their levels of activity, or try out a new activity, then I would definitely recommend having a goal in mind and writing down what that goal is, and how we’re going to achieve it. Planning an activity has been shown to be very important for long-term success. When we write plans, the more detailed the plans are, the better. So if we can write a plan of what we intend to do, how we intend to do it, who we intend to do it with, when, and at what time, then that’s likely to increase the chances that we will actually complete what we’re trying to achieve.
When we embark on any behaviour change, the chances are we’re going to get to a point where we stop, or we relapse, or we don’t succeed in what we’re trying to do. And that’s a completely normal part of the process. In fact, when this happens, sometimes we learn a lot from that process, and it enables us to pick ourselves up, carry on, and succeed in what we’re trying to achieve. So is it OK not to succeed? Then, definitely, yes, it is because of what we learned during that process.

Although the benefits of physical activity and exercise are widely acknowledged, many of us can struggle to meet the government recommended levels.

In this video, we get some advice from Senior Research Physiotherapist, Sarah Moore, and Health Psychologist, Dr Leah Avery on how to increase physical activity and successfully change sedentary behaviour.

Does any of their advice particularly resonate with you? What tips might you try?

To jog your memory, their top tips included:

  • Do an activity that you enjoy and that is suited to you
  • Pair up with a friend or relative
  • Find ways that you can fit in more activity into your daily life
  • Think about why it is that you want to change what you do
  • Set a goal
  • Make a plan – even write it down – to maintain your intention
  • Learn from setbacks, but don’t let them stop you!

You may also like to watch this video from Doctor and Professor Mike Evans which shows how simply walking for 30 minutes a day is the single best thing we can do for our health.

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The Musculoskeletal System: The Science of Staying Active into Old Age

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