Not everyone is a natural athlete, but physical activity does play an important role in your health and quality of life.

Whether you walk, run or participate in a sporting activity, every little bit can make a difference to your overall wellness.

Adults who exercise are better able to handle stress and avoid depression, perform daily tasks without physical limitations, and have a lower risk of developing certain diseases.

Last year, new findings published in British medical journal The Lancet showed that 49% of women and 44% of men in Malaysia were obese.

As we have been rated the most obese nation in South-East Asia, it’s time we do something about it.

Sports and fitness have both health- and skill-related components.

Skill-related components such as agility, coordination, balance, reaction time, power and speed, are used in everyday activities, although a lot of these skills diminish or are lost as we advance in age.

However, you can sharpen them by participating in sporting activities.

Skipping can be a team effort for more advanced skippers like these members of the Penang Rope skipping Association, or a solo exercise for a low=cost workout. - Filepic

Skipping can be a team effort for more advanced skippers like these members of the Penang Rope skipping Association.

Investing in health

You can start by marking Oct 10 on your calendar when the nation celebrates the inaugural National Sports Day.

Over eight million Malaysians are expected to join in the various sports and fitness events being organised nationwide.

An initiative by the Youth and Sports Ministry, the event is a proactive measure in transforming Malaysia into a sporting nation and developing sports as a way of life and culture among our citizens.

The National Sports Day, to be held annually on the second Saturday in October, is intended to kick-start Malaysians into leading a healthier lifestyle.

Most of us spend more than half our lives sitting, and in case you didn’t know, sitting places 50% more pressure on your spinal discs than standing does.

As we become more technologically advanced, we have also become more mechanical, and lack exercise. We lock ourselves behind desks and in front of computers.

When we sit, our back muscles hold us erect, but our stomach and hip muscles are inactive.

When these muscles are not worked, they put a terrible strain on the back muscles. And you wonder why so many people complain of back problems!

With robust health and fitness, you can truly experience life to the fullest.

If you’re an adult between 18 and 60, unfortunately, this is the time a shift towards sedentary behaviour tends to occur.

Leisure time inactivity increases as we get caught up in daily routine.

Get some friends together and start hula-hooping for that trimmer waistline. Photos: Filepic

Get some friends together and start hula-hooping for that trimmer waistline.

When there’s a moment to spare, the trend is to flock to mamak stalls for unhealthy drinks and grease-laden food, or be fixated on mobile devices.

Just as adults focus on creating financial stability during these career-focused years via savings and investments, we should also consider regular exercise and proper nutrition to be investments in health.

In short, we’ve got to get up and move, even if it means jiggling and shaking those unsightly portions of the body.

Going solo

Besides the usual structured sports like golf, tennis or football, you can participate in unstructured activities with limited or no cost, such as swimming, brisk walking, hiking, skipping rope, cycling, jogging, roller skating, skateboarding, hula-hooping, throwing Frisbees, freestyle dancing, stair-climbing, mall-walking or high-intensity interval training, which is one of the quickest ways to get fit.

If team sport is not your cuppa, then you can always work out on your own or with a buddy.

Focus on moderate to vigorous cardiovascular activity throughout the week, broken into three sessions of 10 minutes or more, five times a week.

Moderate intensity aerobic activity makes you breathe harder and your heart beat faster. You should be able to talk, but not sing. Examples include brisk walking, skating and cycling.

Vigorous intensity aerobic activity makes your heart rate increase quite a bit and you won’t be able to say more than a few words unless you stop to catch your breath.

Examples include running, squash, basketball and futsal.

Of course, to get the full benefit of exercising, it is recommended that one does cardio, two sessions of strength or weight training a week, and one mind and body workout such as Pilates or yoga.

If you enjoy team sports, basketball is a good choice, but remember to start slow. -- Filepic

If you enjoy team sports, basketball is a good choice, but remember to start slow.

If possible, add in quick stretches throughout the day to keep the joints limber.

Time and time again, you’ve read that if you improve your fitness through regular aerobic exercise or sports, you can reap the rewards of lower blood pressure, better cholesterol and sugar levels, and a decreased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Regular exercisers also enjoy a healthier body weight and body composition, as well as other benefits, such as increased bone strength, improved sleep quality and lower risk of depression.

Before and after

Before you begin your preferred sport or exercise, always start with a 10-minute warm-up and end with a 10-minute cool down.

Basically, warm-ups are intended to increase your muscle temperature, which then improves muscle elasticity and reduces the risk of strains and pulls.

It causes the blood vessels to dilate, and lowers the stress on the heart, instead of shocking it.

The warm-up is also a good time to mentally prepare for an event by clearing the mind and increasing focus.

The main aim of the cool-down is to promote recovery and return the body to a pre-exercise, or pre-workout level.

During a strenuous workout, your body goes through a number of stressful processes.

Muscle fibres, tendons and ligaments get damaged, and waste products build up within your body.

The cool-down, performed properly, will assist your body in its repair process and delay the onset of muscle soreness – often experienced by amateur exercisers or those embarking on tough high-intensity workouts.

For example…

Below is a sample workout for adults aged 18 to 60 who do not have a suspected or diagnosed medical condition.

Week 1-2: Three days a week, 10-20 minutes daily, light intensity.

If you’ve been a couch potato for a while, start slow. Don’t be overly ambitious as this will just kill your drive.

Week 3-4: Three days a week, 20-30 minutes daily, light to moderate intensity.

Now that you’re a little more comfortable, you can pick up the pace and continue with your sport.

If you’ve been walking around the basketball court, it’s time to add in a slow jog to chase the player with the ball.

Week 5-6: Three or four days a week, 30-40 minutes daily, moderate intensity.

By now, your endurance would have increased and you should be able to be exercise for 40 minutes without panting for air or screaming for mercy.

Week 7-8: Three or four days a week, 40-50 minutes daily, moderate intensity.

Into the middle of your second month, you should have developed a decent level of aerobic fitness.

So, continue what you’re doing or change to another sport or activity to add variety to your routine.

The trick is to enjoy what you do so that you will stick to it.

If you’re participating in sports, remember to incorporate resistance training twice a week, with one to two sets of exercises (aim for six to eight exercises such as push-ups, crunches, squats, etc) and eight to 12 repetitions.

You can choose to work the upper half of the body one day and the lower half, the next session.

Watch out next Sunday for an article on fitness requirements for those aged 60 and above, and for the time-strapped Malaysian.