University of Southern Queensland's Professor Stuart Biddle.
University of Southern Queensland's Professor Stuart Biddle.

How even a small bit of exercise can make a big difference

AN Ipswich professor was one of only three Australian experts involved in developing the World Health Organisation's new guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour.

WHO released its first revised guidelines in a decade on Thursday.

University of Southern Queensland's Professor Stuart Biddle, who is based at the Springfield campus, was the only Queensland-based expert involved in the 16-month process.

The guidelines highlight the risks of sedentary behaviour, which contributes to between four and five million deaths around the world annually.

Current estimates indicate 85 per cent of Australian adults do not achieve the recommended amount of physical activity and muscle strengthening exercise.

Just one in five children meet the guidelines for physical activity of at least 60 minutes per day.

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Professor Biddle said physical inactivity contributes to around 16,000 deaths in Australia annually.

"When combined with other factors such as obesity, it is ranked alongside tobacco smoking as the leading risk factor for disease burden in Australia," he said

In a time when so many of us are still working from home, the new WHO guidelines recommend adults break up long periods of sitting by moving around regularly.

Although the recommended amount of physical activity for children and adolescents, adults, and older adults remains relatively unchanged, Professor Biddle said a subtle but important change to the guidelines was that an aerobic activity no longer has to last at least 10 minutes to bring benefits.

"This is great news because it means every little bit of exercise you do now counts," he said.

"This might encourage people to start parking their car further away in the car park to get in more steps, take the stairs instead of the lift or walk to a colleague's desk instead of emailing them.

"There's plenty of easy and realistic changes you can make to incorporate more physical activity into your day."

The new guidelines recommend adults should do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity or a combination of both.

They should also engage in strengthening activities that involve all the major muscle groups at least two days a week.

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Children aged 5-17 should be averaging an hour a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day, while women who are pregnant or in the post-partum period should try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week.

Professor Biddle said this showed any physical activity is better than none but more is better.

"These new guidelines highlight how moving more and sitting less is the key to keeping physically and mentally fit," he said.

"It doesn't mean you need to join a gym or invest in some expensive equipment.

"Any type of activity that raises your heart rate and helps build muscle strength is fine.

"Our lives depend on us moving more."

Professor Biddle believed it was going to take comprehensive action by governments and health authorities to get things back on track in Australia.

"Australia must adopt a physical activity plan, which other countries have done, to make it easy for people to look after themselves and to experience the social, physical and mental health benefits of regular physical activity," he said.

"Back in the 1970s, the 'Life. Be in It' campaign was arguably the most recognisable and successful health promotion in Australia and was lauded across the world.

"Since then, sadly, Australia has dropped the ball on physical activity."

Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.


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