We’ve got to pull up our socks. The traditional new year’s resolution to be healthier has to become a reality, and right now. “Increasing the level of physical activity is a social necessity, not just an individual one.” That’s the opinion of the World Health Organization (WHO), which stresses the undoubted benefits of sports for adults: “It reduces the risk of hypertension, coronary disease, cerebrovascular accidents, diabetes, breast and colon cancer, depression and falls; it improves bone and functional health, and is essential in determining energy expenditure; and it is thus fundamental for caloric balance and controlling weight.” The WHO is sending a global message: the challenge to find a healthier society “demands an approach that takes in the many sectors of the whole population, one that is multidisciplinary and culturally appropriate.”
To judge by the most recent Eurobarometer from the European Commission, published in April of 2018 on the occasion of World Day for Physical Activity, it is essential to take action. Put on your sports shoes to walk or run, and change your habits: let’s get rid of physical inactivity. According to recent data, 46% of Spaniards never do any exercise or practice any kind of sport, a figure that has grown by two points over the past four years. The survey also indicates that only four of every 10 Spaniards, some 43%, do engage in exercise at least once a month; and that of this group, only 14% do so regularly: about five times per week. In sum, it’s time to take action. This a question of health.
More quality of life
“Regular physical exercise and a healthy lifestyle reduce illness, bring greater functionality and improve mood,” says Valentín Fernández, professor of Sports Training and Planning of Sports Training at Universidad Europea. “From a social point of view, this means less spending on healthcare, healthier ageing, and students and workers with greater physical and intellectual output. And of course living better increases the chances of having a full, happy life. It’s synonymous with a better quality of life.”
In this sense, the director of the University Master in Physical Activity at Universidad Europea, Lidia Brea, adds that there is “a clear relation in adults between lack of physical activity and the rate of death from any cause, including cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome and some types of cancer such as ovarian, colon and endometrium. Likewise, current studies have demonstrated how a sedentary lifestyle can cause diminished bone mass, and it has been observed how patients suffering from depression tend to be more sedentary. A sedentary lifestyle has some very grave consequences for health.”
On the positive side, some teachers consulted by ValUE point out that Spain was recently declared the country with the highest life expectancy in the world, surpassing Japan. Nevertheless, they add, we should be getting old under the best possible conditions, and according to WHO, a great deal is yet to be done. The experts say our biological system has been designed to be active, and that we don’t always do our part.
We should also clear up a common error in popular terminology. “A distinction is usually not made between sports and exercise, and it would interesting to clear up these concepts. Sports, unlike exercise, is defined as planned, structured or repeated activity, aimed at improving or maintaining one or more of the components of physical aptitude, and a characteristic trait is that it is subject to concrete norms, in addition to being a game or competition,” explains Sonia García, a professor in the Sports Sciences Department at Universidad Europea. “When we practice a sport, we exercise, but when we exercise we don’t always engage in sports. When we speak of sports we tend to speak of a discipline.” A simple example: going out to run is physical exercise, whereas playing in a football league would be sport. Doubt resolved. In any case, you have to move. And start moving today. But how? How to meet that enduring resolution to be healthy, but in a way that’s effective and adequate? Is everything permitted? Can anyone get in on the act?
Enjoying will make us healthier
A priori, anyone can engage in physical exercise. But it’s another story if that person suffers from something that prevents this, or if he or she wants to engage in professional or top-level sports. “The key is in adapting the exercise to the individual. The needs of someone who wants to run a marathon are not the same as those of someone who needs to improve his health or those of a preadolescent who is still developing physically,” says Valentín Fernández. Asked about the present vogue in certain practices like running, yoga and crossfit,” he adds: “The more options people have for physical exercise, the better. One of the keys to being physically active is to enjoy. And the wide range of disciplines broadens the training possibilities. But not all of them are valid.” This professor of Sports Training and Planning of Sports Training at Universidad Europea cautions: “Options for exercise should be tested for both their functionality and their safety, and should always be directed by qualified professionals.”
What’s a good way to begin? Strong desire, with moderate and even intense exercise at times. Sessions of between 30 and 60 minutes, three to five times a week. And above all, the experts insist, this activity must bring enjoyment. We tend to give up on what bores us or involves great effort, so we should set ourselves realistic goals: a sedentary person can’t run a marathon after just a few months’ training, but has to prepare step-by-step, with a certain rigor, being confident in an active life and under the supervision of professionals who act as guides. It’s a process of change and discipline that obviously depends on oneself.
Too many fashions in sports?
The answer is ‘yes.’ But that’s not a criticism per se. “The problem with these modes is that you can begin with one and then it is taken too far. To develop good physical conditioning, the best thing to do is to vary the exercise, not stick to just one type. For example, running is very good, but it’s better when complemented by some additional strength work,” explains professor Lidia Brea.
“At present we have a wide range of activities with which to exercise and seek new objectives,” adds Sonia García. “What’s important is to do something. Look for what motivates you so as to be able to stick with it over a long period, which is what really brings a healthy lifestyle.” She has another tip for beginners: “Some sporting activities, like crossfit or running, require a certain physical base. Don’t be in a hurry. Work over the middle term: sometimes being in a hurry can bring you back to the starting point. And try to make it a lifelong habit,” she ads. But cautiously, in an ordered way, and –why not?– being passionate about it.
Academic research, the engine of values
In a firm commitment to a healthier world, awareness should first be on an individual level, but later also collective. Inevitably. The different sectors of society are essential in transforming people’s habits. It’s time to turn around the disappointing data in those WHO reports.
This has long been a concern in the academic world. The professionals in the Faculty of Physical Activity Sciences and Sport at Universidad Europea are working on different studies so that, without further delay, “regular physical exercise will be achieved throughout society: children, adolescents, adults and people who are ill.” The overall goal, the experts tell ValUE, “is not only to live longer but to live all of life more fully.”
As with most things in life, special mention should be made of the human factor. “There are apps that design your training plan. But the human factor is crucial in this process: listening to people, their needs and motivations about exercise, but also respecting their lives, their work, their family. And giving them the motivation to keep on training. We’re not machines, we’re people. Whether it be the Olympic athlete or the guy who goes to pilates twice a week,” says Valentín Fernández.
His companion Sonia García has opened up a new line of research, with regard to the body-mind duality in sports: “Taking into account that the body-mind duality is indivisible, it’s true that some techniques like yoga, pilates, Qi Gong and taichi, through their therapeutic side, bring extra consciousness when we exercise.” And the achievements are indisputable. “As seen in a great number of studies, the benefits are both physical and in coordination, balance and mobility, as well as mental improvements related to general wellbeing, or health variables like reducing blood pressure.”
Other university research places the focus on sport among youngsters who are at risk of social exclusion, or in the program called Meditative Movement, aimed at lowering stress among workers in a company, With the aim of promoting physical activity from an early age, there are programs to coach children in Europe. And thus, along with a general desire for a healthier society, resound the echoes of the values of sports. Teamwork, achievement, respect, perseverance, companionship, integration, solidarity, equality… These are some of the basics of living together.
Yes, returning to the start of this report, we’ve got to pull up our socks. The future is closing in.