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Physical Activity Is About So Much More Than Just Weight Loss

Reminder: 30 minutes of movement is just two percent of your entire day.

19/09/2016 5:23 PM AEST | Updated 02/10/2016 9:02 AM AEDT
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Yes we are a fat nation. But getting active should happen regardless of weight.

Despite residing on the largest island on the planet, one known as much for its natural beauty and stretching coastlines as it is for its love affair with sport, Australia is one of the fattest nations in the world.

More than half of the adult population don't currently meet the daily physical activity recommendations -- that is 30 minutes of movement on most days of the week -- which doesn't have to be in one session either, but spread out across the day.

It doesn't seem to matter though, because we're a nation that's become skilled at making excuses. Whether it's the couch, desk or a beach towel, Aussies are standing (or lying) still, probably with a bag of chips in hand.

Dr Verity Cleland, senior research fellow at the University of Tasmania explains because of the complex nature of physical activity as a behaviour, there isn't one simple answer for getting Aussies to move more.

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Parents have a responsibility to set an example for their kids.

"We know that education strategies alone don't work. As with most things, just because you know something is good for you doesn't necessarily mean you'll do it," Cleland told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Physical activity can occur for various purposes, in different settings -- and it's influenced by multiple factors, both modifiable and non-modifiable -- that operate at many different levels."

For example age, sex and ethnicity you can't do much about however things like your own enjoyment of exercise, confidence in your ability to be active and whether you have the support of your friends and family all act as predictors of physical activity that can be modified.

"Those who are experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage are less likely to be active and more likely to be overweight or obese than those who are more advantaged," Cleland said.

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'Making physical activity as accessible as possible is the grand vision.'

This is where context is important.

"For people experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage, physical activity will be lower down on the priority list because getting food on the table for their family is going to be more important," Cleland said.

Once you take into account all of these varying factors, it becomes clear that physical activity isn't simply a question of yes or no -- but instead an alignment of stars, if you will -- where all of these things have to come together.

Cleland explains the responsibility of parents shouldn't be underestimated either.

"There is some evidence that our children's level of physical activity has declined over the past 20 to 30 years and with that we've also seen an increased rate of overweight and obesity," Cleland said.

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A 2005 study revealed declines across the board in most types of physical activity among Australian children.

A 2005 study revealed declines across the board in most types of physical activity among Australian children. But interestingly, the declines were greater in those experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage.

"Parents play a critical role in a number of ways -- from ensuring their child sees them being active, taking their child to and from sport and encouraging them to participate -- these are all strongly correlated with how active children are," Cleland said.

Moodi Dennaoui, personal trainer and Body Science expert said daily physical activity should be like brushing your teeth -- you shouldn't question it -- though it's not until people understand that the benefits go way beyond aesthetic components will we start to see changes.

"There is a fountain of youth is right in front of us -- exercise. Not only does it improve the longevity of your life but your ability to communicate, your relationships, your hormonal balance, your skeletal structure and bone density," Dennaoui told HuffPost Australia.

Parents play a critical role in a number of ways -- from ensuring their child sees them being active, taking their child to and from sport and encouraging them to participate -- these are all strongly correlated with how active children are.

Both Dennaoui and Cleland agree physical activity is contagious.

"If you've got a supportive spouse, you're much more likely to be active than someone who doesn't and the same goes for your peer group, if your friends and colleagues value physical activity, you're also much more likely to do it," Cleland said.

Cleland explains the importance of the environment when it comes to predicting physical activity, too.

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"The weather, the area you live, road and road safety and also the broader environment policies like urban planning, public transport and workplace policies all play a role," Cleland said.

Basically, making physical activity as accessible as possible is the grand vision.

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Encouraging physical activity means creating supportive environments from your workplace to your neighbourhood.

"It's really about making exercise a part of our lives where we don't even have to think about it and that's why the environment is so important," Cleland said.

This means creating places and spaces that are supportive of physical activity participation either through direct promotion or in the case of workplaces, for example, by providing access to showers and lockers and being flexible with time.

Dennaoui adds "It's more than just lifting weights. Physical activity gives your body an opportunity to take advantage of the nutrients you are eating."

Perhaps the best thing about being active is that encourages other healthy behaviours.

According to the Department of Health, physical inactivity is estimated to be the main cause for approximately 21 to 25 percent of breast and colon cancers, 27 percent of diabetes and approximately 30 percent of ischaemic heart disease burden.

"We call it a clustering of healthier behaviours, where often you'll find people who are active also eat well, don't smoke and moderate their alcohol intake," Cleland said.

Cleland said the challenge is getting Australians to see that the benefits of physical activity are so much greater than simply a weight loss mechanism.

According to the Department of Health, physical inactivity is estimated to be the main cause for approximately 21 to 25 percent of breast and colon cancers, 27 percent of diabetes and approximately 30 percent of ischaemic heart disease burden.

Behind tobacco smoking, it's the second greatest contributor to the cancer burden in Australia.

The stats don't lie. It's time we, as a nation, get up from our desk, couch or beach towel and remind ourselves, our family, our friends that 30 minutes of movement is just two percent out of your day.

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