So, you are thinking of becoming physically active?
Few people say that becoming physically active is easy, but everyone who has started says the effort is worth it.
Becoming active at any age adds years to your life, and not to mention, life to your years. Starting physical activity
can greatly decrease the risk of getting a serious disease, or help you manage your condition if you already have one.
Taking time to prepare is important. If you prepare well you are more likely to succeed. This issue is full of information and practical advice that can help you become physically active.
HOW WALKING HEALED MASALENG
Masalang lives in Soweto and works for an NGO which fosters orphaned children. Although Masalang loved her job, she always worried, “How could she strengthen the bond between the NGO and the children’s foster parents?” She felt that unless the NGO found a way to get the parents involved, the NGO would lose contact with the children. One day as she was taking her daily walk, an idea popped into her mind; “why not start a walking club with these children’s foster mothers?”
Masalang’s determination to start a walking club in her community was actually started out of tragedy. In 2003, she was involved
in a car accident and unfortunately was told she would never use one of her legs again. “You can imagine how I felt when I was told that I may never walk again. I was very sad because I was a very active person before the accident”, she said gravely.
But her tone quickly changes to a lighter one. “Thank God I am stubborn you know. I told my physiotherapist that I want to walk again, “she says and laughs. Her physiotherapist told her to buy a stationary bike and that is what she did.
“I regained the full use of my legs simply because of exercise. And this is what inspired me to start a walking club in 2009. I also had a passion to see di?fferent women come together in solidarity.” Her walking club now boasts a membership of about 60 women. She started off by approaching a few foster mothers to help her recruit other mothers. “My target group was women who were 50 years and older, since that is the age range of most of the foster mothers.” The group meets every day in the early morning and takes an hour long walk. After the walk, the women sit down and share some fruit and juice, while they discuss issues that they are facing.
“This club is the best thing that I have ever done. We are now such a close-knit community… and a healthier one too”, she says with justifiable satisfaction. “The club has also given women who are
unemployed an option of what to do with their time, other than going to the shebeen.” She explains that she keeps the women motivated, “by being an example myself. I walk with them to show them that if I can do it, then they can do it.” She adds that they also hold walking competitions to try and make walking more exciting and fun. “The oldest woman in our club, our gogga who is 73 years old,
actually won a prize for a walking competition we had this weekend. Everyone was cheering her on. She was so happy. It was so nice to see,” she says proudly.
When asked what health benefits she has experienced since she started the group, she immediately lights up, “I have no diabetes, no high blood pressure – none of the things that women at my age often
complain about. I am 50, but still in tip-top condition!” She adds that she is constantly bombarded by words of gratitude from the other women who tell her how she has changed their lives by helping them to stay physically active. Masalang concludes by saying, “Anyone can use my idea and start a walking group in their community. They can try this with a group of fellow church mates, or even a few women from around their neighbourhood. Often, people would like to be physically active, but just need the right encouragement and the company to do it with.”
What is being physically active all about?
Starting something new can be quite challenging. The best is to start small and progress from there. Here are a few terms to know before you start any physical activity.
- Means any movement that your body does that causes your muscles to work, and increases the amount of energy you use, and does not need to be planned.
- Includes walking, gardening, playing with your children, climbing the stairs at work or at the mall or house cleaning, such as sweeping and vacuuming.
- Could include physical activity at work, for transport, such as walking to the bus stop, or for recreation.
Exercise is a bit more formal, and is planned physical activity, like going to the gym or for a cycle. The aim of exercise is usually to increase your levels of fitness.
Fitness which is important for your health is made up of aerobic fitness, muscle strength, muscle endurance and flexibility.
Aerobic fitness includes walking, riding a bicycle, dancing, doing aerobics
- Muscle strength means how strong you are. This doesn’t only mean lifting weights at gym but also lifting shopping bags or moving a bucket of water.
- Endurance means to be able to do an activity for a long period of time without getting too tired. It could be walking home from the shops with your shopping bags.
- Flexibility means how easy your muscles can stretch, like touching your toes and being able to reach for things high up in the cupboard.
Intensity means how hard you work. This is very important if you want health and fitness benefits. Intensity is broken into 2 parts: moderate physical activity and vigorous/hard physical activity.
Moderate means that when you do an activity you start to breathe a bit faster and your heart beats faster, like when you are walking fast and carrying something light, like bread and milk. Other examples are when you are sweeping your house or vacuuming, or raking leaves in the garden. But you should do this for at least 10 minutes for it to count as moderate activity.
When you are doing vigorous/hard physical activity your breathing is fast and hard, your heart beats fast and you are sweating. An example would be carrying or lifting something heavy for
at least ten minutes, walking home from the shops with heavy shopping bags, or doing a dance class where you are sweating and out of breath.
The benefits of physical activity:
- Improves the function of your heart and lungs
- Lowers your chances of heart disease by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, body fat (including fat around the belly), and sugars (improving diabetes)
- It can help you lose weight and build muscle
- Decreases your chances of illness and increases your life-span
- Decreases stress and depression and improves your mood and feeling of wellbeing
- Helps you to do daily tasks, especially if you are older.
- Helps you perform better at work, recreational and sport activities
- Reduces your chances of falling and injuries from falls, especially if you are older
- Helps you sleep better at night
- IT’S FUN!
Frequently asked questions
Who should be physically active?
Research has shown that everyone benefi ts from physical activity, even if you are in your senior years, are overweight or have a chronic condition.
How active should children be?
Children should be active for at least 60 minutes each day. The benefi ts of physical activity for children are enormous: active children have less body fat; they sleep better; they develop stronger muscles and bones; and they learn better. They also learn important social skills if they take part in physical play or organized physical activities at school.
Can I start being active, if I never have been before?
Yes! You should start slowly and gradually increase the time you spend being physically active as well as the intensity (the rate or speed at which you do your activity). There are big benefi ts to your health if you can go from zero activity to even just one hour a week.
How do I start, where do I start and what do I do?
When starting any physical activity or exercise, the best is to start slowly. Listen to your body, it will tell you how hard to work. Every week, progress a little further, and within a short time, you will feel fi tter and stronger. You can start physical activity anywhere. Walking is a good start, or simply be active in your home, by for example, dancing to music.
Can I be active if I have diabetes?
Yes! Research shows that regular physical activity can play an important part in controlling diabetes. But it is still important to continue taking any medication that your doctor has prescribed for you.
Can I be active if I have high blood pressure?
Yes, but make sure you have someone check your blood pressure before you start doing physical activity. Research shows that regular physical activity can help to reduce high blood pressure. If you have hypertension, it would still be important to continue taking any medication that your doctor has prescribed for you.
Mark’s story is truly an inspirational story of commitment and passion that belongs in the pages of a sports magazine.
I met up with him one day on a windswept soccer field in Hanover Park to talk about how he keeps fi t and physically active. “I have been passionate about sports ever since I was a child,’’ he tells me. “I have actually participated in sport my whole life and cannot imagine life without it.” He certainly looks lean and strong at the age of 53. At the moment, he is training for the Two Oceans marathon.
He tells me that this will be the fourth time he has run the 56 km marathon. His first encounter with sports was as a small kid growing up in District Six in Cape Town. At fi rst, he just played soccer with his friends on the streets of his neighbourhood. Later, he joined in on the soccer games being played on the local field.
“Throughout my school years and all the way through to my first year of varsity, I used to play soccer every week night – Monday to Thursday – on the soccer fields in my neighbourhood, especially by the time we had moved to Hanover Park. I was a striker,” he recalls wistfully.
“There was no structure or formalised training. We organised the games ourselves.” But Mark and his team mates were absolutely committed to the game:
“It was based on a real love for the sport, but it was also a social thing. I made a lot of friends through soccer. I still know some of the guys I met through soccer then,” he says. “Sport is a wonderful way to interact with people. It can help you form strong bonds, which can really help you when you go through a difficult time in your life… “. For just a moment, Mark looks sad, as he thinks back to the time when he lost his father at the age of 10. He goes on to say how, besides keeping him fit, soccer kept him motivated and disciplined, in an environment where there were lots of negative influences on young men. By the age of 16, Mark started playing competitive soccer. He joined a club called Lilies AFC, which was originally formed in Salt River but moved to Hanover Park when the main members moved there. He then started playing more seriously, against teams from other areas. In addition to soccer, Mark also developed a passion for athletics as a boy. “I have always been a runner. I had an obvious aptitude for it, so the teachers at school encouraged me. I loved the time of year when the schools would meet up for athletic competitions. I was also in the Church Lads Brigade (CLB), which was a youth structure in the local Anglican Church, which was our family church.
We had gym, did drill, and competed in athletics with other CLBs from the Western Cape. I often won my races,” he says with a shy laugh. Later, as an adult Mark wanted to share this passion with the youngsters in his community. He had an opportunity to do this when he started teaching at a local school. He joined an athletics club, started by a fellow teacher, eventually took it over and coached numerous kids who came through the local schools. You can hear the pride in his voice when he talks about the club. “At the time, the school was a very restrictive environment, but the Sports Department was a place where the kids could just feel free. They enjoyed the training and the competitions on weekends, but we also used to give them breakfast in the early morning, which they really appreciated. So, it was a place where everyone wanted to be.
In the winter, if it was raining, we would gather in one of the classrooms and do aerobics together…’’, he recalls. Unfortunately in his 40s, Mark fell ill and struggled to keep up with his running. This was a bitter blow, as by then, running had become a central part of this life. Not being able to exercise properly, left him feeling tired and miserable. After visiting several doctors, none of whom could work out what was wrong with him, he was eventually correctly diagnosed with asthma. For most people, that would have been the end of the story, but not for Mark. “After I got onto proper treatment, I decided to gradually get back into sport. I started o? by walking, then doing short jogs and slowly rebuilding my strength, so that I could go back to road running. I have since done several marathons and I am still going strong…” This experience inspired Mark to help several friends of his who were keen to get fit, but had not done any exercise since their school days. He worked out a programme for them, which started them o? walking, then jogging short distances, until they could eventually do 10 km runs with ease. “I get a lot of pleasure when I see how running has changed the lives of these friends… and I know that I was a part of it…”
“The one friend of mine runs every single morning, come rain or shine. He is even more dedicated than I am now!” One of the things Mark says he loves about marathons is that it brings together people of all ages and from all walks of life. “There is a great sense of comradeship on those runs and that really helps you soldier on to the fi nish line. I also enjoy the chats people have with you at the water stations and the encouraging words you get from the spectators. It is actually a great thing to do on a weekend.”
For Mark the benefits of doing exercise are not only physical. “For me there is a strong social aspect to it. I have made some very close friends through sport, but it is also just something that makes me feel happy and at peace with myself. Running gives me time for myself, time to think… It is a great stress reliever.” In conclusion, when I ask Mark how he would encourage people to start engaging in physical activity, he says, “Choose a physical activity or sport that you would enjoy. It can be anything, from dancing, to walking, to karate or jogging… Then start by making it a habit – something you do on the same day of the week, at the same time. It doesn’t take long to settle into a routine. Once the habit is there, the fi tness follows. You will then get to a stage when you find you really need to do it and really miss it if you don’t.”
Assessing your Body Mass Index (BMI)
The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measurement that compares your height to your weight and gives you an idea of whether you are overweight, underweight or at a healthy weight for your height. You can do this in a few easy steps:
- Measure yourself on a bathroom scale
- Measure how tall you are (in meters) using a measuring tape
- Use a paper, pencil/pen and calculator to do the following calculation:Take your height and multiply the number of meters by the same number of meters. Divide your weight by height (squared) to get your BMI score.
- Use the scale
Assessing your level of physical activity
The table will help you see how much physical activity you are doing at the moment.
Firstly, think of how many days in the week you are active and how long you are active for.
Then, draw a line from the days per week and minutes per day and see where they meet.
For example, if you are physically active for 4 days a week for 40 minutes at a time then your activity time per week is 160 minutes, and you’re in the green zone. See if you fit into the red, orange or green zone:
- If you are in the RED zone, it is important to start doing small amounts of physical activity every day.
- If you are in the YELLOW zone, you need to increase your physical activity to at least 30 minutes of moderate to
hard activity on 5 or more days of the week. When you are doing this activity, try to go fast enough so that you
huff? and puff? (breathe faster) and work up a bit of a sweat.
- If you are in the GREEN zone, this is great! Do your best to keep this up.
Read how Noluthando lost weight at work…
In 2010, Noluthando found out that she was pregnant. This brought great joy to her life. But joy wasn’t the only thing that came with her pregnancy; she also gained a lot of weight, something she did not bargain for. By the time she gave birth in 2011, she weighed 80kg, 25 kilos more than she was used to.
Like many women, when she became pregnant, Noluthando starting eating more and putting on weight. The extra weight did not bother her at first. She accepted it as quite normal to gain weight during pregnancy. “You know how it is when you are pregnant, you gain all that baby fat”, she said. However, soon after giving birth, she started to feel uncomfortable in her “new body”. She also started feeling pain in her knees and back, something which she is sure was a result of all the extra weight she was carrying around. She says that when she saw herself in a mirror she would catch
herself thinking, “This is not me.” Although she was unhappy with her weight, she didn’t do anything about it immediately.
The wake-up call came at the beginning of this year when there was a wellness day at her workplace. She decided to take part and had a few health tests done. “The day after the Wellness day, I received a phone call from the people who had organised the event, and they told me that I was overweight, and that I should do something about it if I wanted to avoid the kind of health complications that can result from being overweight. She says that she realised then that it was time for her to change her lifestyle by eating more healthily and doing some exercise.
Having a new-born baby at home however meant that she could not go to gym after work. “The interest to start exercising was there, but the problem was that as a new mother, I did not have the time”. Her prayers were answered when a colleague from work started an exercise club. “I joined the fitness club immediately. I was so excited that I could exercise while still at work”. She says that the fitness club members meet twice a week at lunch time for a 45 minute class of aerobics every week, “I started feeling the benefi ts almost immediately. I felt lighter and happier,” she said. Eight months after starting she has moved down a few sizes, from size 40 to 34.
I am so happy I work here. Now I can exercise while I am still at work during my lunch hour, and go straight home after work to my baby. I am living every new mother’s dream.” I mention to Noluthando that she is lucky to work in a place where someone started such a club. But she quickly says, “luck has nothing to do with it. This fitness club was started by an ordinary colleague who understood the benefi ts of physical activity, but also understood the time constraints that most people have. He motivated everyone in the office to spare just two lunch hours every week, a sacrifice that is well worth it,” Noluthando says. She adds, “and the best part is it is free because he also persuaded our employer to pay for the fitness instructor.” When asked how she stays motivated, she says “aerobics is so much fun. Before, I was exercising because I wanted to lose weight. Now, I am doing it because I love it. The enjoyment is motivation enough for me. But it is also important to have a goal. Know what it is that you want to achieve and you will”.
Ways to add more physical activity to your daily life
Adding steps to your day
- Walk to visit a friend instead of phoning them (this saves money too)
- Walk with your child to school (this way you get to spend more quality time with them)
- Get off the bus / taxi / trainone stop earlier and walk the rest of the way
- Choose a longer route to the place where you are going
- Walk instead of taking a taxi (this also saves money)
- Walk to the shop with your child, instead of sending them on their own
- Take the stairs instead of the lift
- Walk somewhere during lunch time at work
- If you use a car, park far away from the entrance to the shopping mall
- On a weekend, walk along the beach for pleasure and
Making your steps count more:
- Swing your arms when you walk.
- Whenever you walk anywhere, walk as fast as you can (this can also save time).
- Carry your shopping bags, instead of using a trolley.
- Take fewer rest breaks and walk fast enough so that you are out of breath (huff and puff ), your heart beats faster, and you are sweating.
Tips on how to overcome common difficulties
Starting something new can be very difficult, especially when there are things that stand in your way. Here are a few tips on how you can overcome some of the challenges:
Feel unsafe on your own?
- Walk around at your nearest shopping mall
- Start an exercise group at your place of worship or work
- Walk in the grounds of a school in your neighbourhood with a group of friends
No facilities where you live?
- Take one or two old phone books, wrap some sellotape around them to secure the pages. Now step up and down for 1 minute at a time at your own pace. Rest for one minute. Then slowly increase the time you spend stepping and decrease the rest periods in between
- Take a short walk around the block, or up and down the road
- Join the neighbourhood watch, and walk with them
- Dance to your favourite song in your home
- Join the scholar patrol at your local school
No support from friends or family?
- Do physical activity at home while doing chores, or dance to music
- Join the neighbourhood watch or scholar patrol at your local school, and walk with them
No time to be active or exercise?
- Do small bits of activity throughout the day, like climbing the stairs, walking or cycling to the shop and dancing to songs on the radio while you are cooking or cleaning. All these add up and can be counted as physical activity
- Cook enough food for 2 days, this will give you extra time to be physically active or exercise, like play with your children or go for a walk
- Start an exercise group at work, during your lunchtime
Activities for you and your children
If you’re a parent or grandparent looking after children, and often wonder what you can do with your kids, here are a few tips for activities you can get involved in:
- Clean the yard with your kids, for example, sweep, rake leaves or water the plants
- Teach them how to hop, skip, jump and roll (you can do this inside the house too if the weather is bad)
- Walk your kids to and from school
- Cook food for 2 days, so you have extra time to play with them
- Go for a walk, and while you walk, teach them about road signs and road safety
- Start a walking group with other parents and grandparents in the area
- Take them to the beach or play park on the weekends
- When at the mall, take the stairs with them, and walk around with them
- Teach them the games you played when you were young
- Play music and dance for 20 minutes or more
- Wash the car together
Need Support To Quit?
Remember there is professional help on the other end of the phone, if you phone the Cancer Association Quitline on
Keeping a diary helps you stay disciplined with your physical activities, we have provided you with a chart in the tabloid on page 15 which you can use.Download
We're On facebook
Our informative facebook page keeps you up to date with the iChange4Health project and aims to help you find a healthy balance in your life.
Like Our Facebook Page