Health advocate claims Kiwis have become complacent with exercise

New research from the University of California San Francisco found people needed to exercise much more than first thought.
New research from the University of California San Francisco found people needed to exercise much more than first thought. Photo credit: Getty

New Zealanders need to up their game when it comes to exercise to ensure short-term and long-term benefits, according to a health advocate.

ExerciseNZ chief executive Richard Beddie told Morning Report the public had maybe become complacent about the level of exercise needed to ensure they were living a healthy lifestyle.

"The Ministry of Health has updated its guidelines, but that really hasn't gone into the public domain," he said.

"So a lot of the early messages were around 30 minutes most days of the week. Eventually that got to 30 minutes five times per week, but 150 minutes is minimum. It really should be between 150 and 300 minutes and for some people that might scare them as it's nearly an hour per day five times per week.

His comments follow new research from the University of California San Francisco, which found people needed to exercise much more than first thought.

The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and examined physical activity and cardiovascular health.

ExerciseNZ recommends adults engage in around 150 minutes of moderate exercise - a brisk walk falls under this term - each week for optimal cardiovascular health, which equates to around 500 metabolic equivalent for a task (METs) per week.

MET estimates the amount of energy used by the body during physical activity, compared against resting metabolism. This unit is often used so it can apply to people of varying body weight and compare different activities or types of exercise, Beddie says.

"The key thing here is understanding that there is some options in that. So intensity is one of the keys. So for those doing high intensity it could be as low as doing and hour-and-a-quarter per week. Intensity can really help, for those who are time-poor," he said.

Intense work-outs would include cycling or runs, anything that elevates heart rate and induces heavy breathing. But yoga classes, heavy gardening sessions and other activities count too, he said.

"Something is better than nothing, but we do need to be very aware, everyone doing their jobs, with some exceptions, sits in front of a computer all day... that means we need to be more physically active outside of our jobs."

The health benefits are both long-term and short-term, he added.

"What people will notice is, when they're moving their body regularly, they will feel better reasonably quickly. We're talking about weeks, not months."

With consistent regular exercise, it will stave off heart disease, certain types of cancer and degenerative neurological illnesses like Parkinson's. Doing exercise with family was a great way to ensure consistency, he said.

The US study found that, on average, all adults saw a steep decline in physical activity after transitions to tertiary education or the workforce.

Only those who did about more than 300 minutes of physical activity a week avoided hypertension.