Contributed by Mercy Medical Center – Des Moines exclusively for the Iowa Food & Family Project
Flower buds are starting to peek out. Birds are returning to the neighborhood. The sun feels warmer and brighter than it has in months, and it stays light later, too. Leave those thoughts of snowstorms behind. Spring is here and April is Physical Wellness Month so let’s use this as an opportunity to get moving!
Physical wellness starts with eating healthy food and often that food is grown and raised right here in Iowa! Iowa leads the nation in producing many foods we love – and ones that are great for our bodies. From planting sprawling fields to selling fresh produce at farmers’ markets, farmers both large and small have one goal in mind: to provide healthy food for their families and yours.
What you put into your body is just as important as physical activity. Springtime in Iowa provides the opportunity to get your hands in the dirt to plant homegrown vegetables and herbs. Fire up the grill this spring and enjoy healthy cuts of beef, pork, chicken or turkey alongside vegetables to fuel your body for wherever your activities take you!
Living an active Lifestyle
In addition to eating right, regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. You don’t have to train for a marathon or a triathlon to get exercise; many daily activities count. Whether it’s walking the dog, gardening or going for a family bike ride, staying active is the goal. It doesn’t have to include putting on gym clothes or getting sweaty! Even low-impact exercise can have a big impact on your overall health.
Physical activity not only feels good, it helps lower risk and prevents chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, improves your mental health and mood, increases your energy level and improves your quality of sleep, not to mention helps you manage and maintain your weight.
How much physical activity is enough?
Experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week for basic health benefits; if weight loss is your goal, you may need more. Your 150 minutes can be spread out through the week as you please. You can spend 21 minutes exercising every day, or work out for almost an hour three times per week. Use this guide from the Center for Disease Control on how much physical activity adults need.
Walking is a great, low-intensity way to achieve the health benefits of physical activity because it is safe and pleasant, making it an easier habit to develop. Because walking is an aerobic, weight-bearing activity, it's good for your heart and helps prevent osteoporosis by strengthening your bones.
“Try to incorporate strength-strengthening exercises – like lifting weights, push-ups or yoga – at least two times per week to build and maintain muscles,” said Jennifer Wagner, Fitness Specialist at Mercy Medical Center – Des Moines’ Wellness Center.
Children should get 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity every day to achieve maximum health benefits. Like adults, children can get the benefits by breaking up their 60 minutes — say 30 minutes during recess and 30 minutes after school.
What can I do to get – and keep – my child active?
As a parent, you can help shape your child's attitudes and behaviors toward physical activity, and knowing these guidelines is a great place to start. Throughout their lives, encourage young people to be physically active for one hour or more each day, with activities ranging from informal, active play to organized sports. Here are some ways you can do this:
- Set a positive example by leading an active lifestyle yourself.
- Make physical activity part of your family's daily routine by taking family walks or playing active games together.
- Give your children equipment that encourages physical activity.
- Take young people to places where they can be active, such as public parks, community baseball fields or basketball courts.
- Be positive about the physical activities in which your child participates and encourage them to be interested in new activities.
- Make physical activity fun. Fun activities can be anything your child enjoys, either structured or non-structured. Activities can range from team sports or individual sports to recreational activities such as walking, running, skating, bicycling, swimming, playground activities or free-time play.
- Instead of watching television after dinner, encourage your child to find fun activities to do on their own or with friends and family, such as walking, playing catch or riding bikes.
- Be safe! Always provide protective equipment such as helmets, wrist pads or knee pads and ensure that activity is age-appropriate.
Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression and may help you sleep better. Research has shown that doing aerobic or a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities 3 to 5 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes can give you these mental health benefits. Some scientific evidence has also shown that even lower levels of physical activity can be beneficial.
“Don't commit to anything you don't feel confident about,” says Wagner. “Start an exercise plan that you're interested in so you can stick to it, but don't feel guilty or disappointed if you don't reach some lofty goal that wasn't right for you. You can always add more activities or time to your exercise routine when you're ready.”