Healthy through exercise: even simple activities help

What does a healthy lifestyle look like? Along with an adequate diet, exercise in particular plays an important role. Those who are physically active can boost their immune system, prevent illnesses – and are happier all round. Nobody has to become an elite athlete for that.

At a glance

  • People who are physically active can resist and prevent a multitude of illnesses.
  • Exercise boosts the metabolism and immune system, more defense cells are produced and more calories are burned into the bargain.
  • The muscles, heart and other organs are stimulated by exercise, and endorphins (happiness hormones) are released.
  • Furthermore, stress and tension can be relieved by exercise, which has a positive impact on both well-being and health.
  • Even simple activities like climbing stairs and regular walks increase productivity.
  • In children, physical activity fosters motor, cognitive, psychosocial and emotional development.

Note: The information in this article cannot and should not replace a medical consultation and must not be used for self-diagnosis or treatment.

Health through exercise: group of four young people going jogging together in a park.

More exercise, healthier life

Most adults spend the bulk of their time sitting – whether at a desk, on a sofa or in a car. This means that all in all, we are not exercising enough and are thus increasing the risk for health impairments or certain diseases. On the other hand, those who are physically active can prevent many diseases and increase their productivity and well-being.

Being active: good for body and mind

“Just go for a little walk, it helps!” A simple but good tip that has been proven to work time and again – whether for anger, everyday stress, fatigue or headaches. In fact, exercising ensures a clear head and helps with contemplation and switching off, puts us in a good mood and also lets us sleep better at night.  

However, regular physical activity can also foster long-term health – and more specifically, prevent illnesses. For certain diseases like high blood pressure, cardiac insufficiency, osteoporosis, diabetes, depression and dementia, there is even evidence that exercise alleviates symptoms and can replace some drugs.

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How much exercise is beneficial?

Physical activity is beneficial on all levels. It is not only the muscles, joints and entire musculoskeletal system that are strengthened. Physical activity also prevents back pain. The immune system and metabolism benefit, the heart and circulation are exercised, and our mental health is improved. Happiness hormones (endorphins) are also released. In short, our lives are healthier and in a best-case scenario, we also get sick less often.

But how much exercise should we do? Go jogging every day? Have a walk now and then or do yoga twice a week? There is no fixed formula – just some general recommendations.

The following pointers may provide some guidance: 

  • According to a definition by the Robert Koch Institute, health-promoting activities include strenuous endurance activities (commonly called “aerobic” training) that increase the breathing and heart rate and are practiced for at least 10 minutes at a time. Examples: cycling, jogging, football, swimming.
  • Muscle-strengthening activities are also health-enhancing since they promote productivity and strengthen the musculoskeletal system, joints, bones, tendons and ligaments. Examples: strength training, pilates, yoga.
Infants should get as much exercise as possible, children in nurseries should exercise for at least 180 minutes daily, children in primary school and adolescents should spend 90 minutes a day exercising, adults 150 minutes and older people twice a week.

According to the “National Recommendations for Exercise and Promotion of Physical Activity”, the following applies to different age groups:  

  • For infants and toddlers aged up to 3 years, it is important that they are able to follow their natural desire for exercise. It is recommended not to let small children use screen media (such as a television, computer or smartphone).
  • Kindergartners (aged 4-6 years) should only sit for short periods and exercise for at least 180 minutes every day. They should not use screen media for more than 30 minutes a day.
  • Elementary school children (aged 6-11 years) and adolescents (aged 12-18 years) should do at least 90 minutes of moderate to intensive exercise a day – which can include up to 60 minutes of cycling or walking. In addition, strengthening the muscles several times a week is recommended to build strength and endurance. Elementary school children should not sit in front of a screen any longer than 60 minutes per day, while adolescents should not spend more then 120 minutes in front of a screen.
  • For adults (aged 18-65 years), a total of 150 minutes of moderately strenuous activities, preferably with a focus on endurance, is recommended – or alternatively 75 minutes of strenuous physical activity altogether. These include strengthening exercises like gymnastics or weight training 2 days a week. 
  • For older adults (aged over 64 years), the same recommendations apply as for younger ones. People with reduced mobility should additionally carry out balancing exercises to reduce the risk of falling.  

All age groups should be aware that sitting for long periods of time should be avoided as much as possible. That is because prolonged sitting increases the risk of developing chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes mellitus, obesity, several kinds of cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Small stretches of activity should consistently alternate with sitting – for instance small walks, working while standing or meetings while walking.

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Important: Whoever wishes to live a healthier life overall and prevent illnesses should also ensure a balanced diet – with an adequate supply of fluids, lots of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain foods and as few convenience products, fats, salt and sugar as possible. You can find more on the topic of “Healthy eating” here.

Counteract stress with exercise

The transformation of working life, which among other things is defined by numerous appointments and meetings, leads to both a lack of exercise and more stress due to time pressure. Tension and back pain are thus produced by the hectic pace and few breaks, but also due to sitting for too long and in an improper manner. Even small changes in behavior can achieve a lot and thereby help prevent excessive stress and consequences for health.

  • More movement in the workplace can be accomplished with simple actions – for example, by visiting colleagues in person instead of calling them. 
  • It is also possible to stretch regularly or move the feet up and down. Deep abdominal breathing also helps. 
  • Neck and shoulder exercises can be carried out at the desk.
  • Health-conscious people should eat lunch at rest and then schedule a little post-lunch walk.
  • Correct sitting is important to rest the back – a good and properly adjusted office chair or a balance cushion can accomplish much.

Interesting fact: Meanwhile, many health insurance providers offer exercise instructions and videos on their websites. You do not need any extra materials for many exercises.

Integrate more exercise into the daily routine – without overdoing it

It is not a good idea to sign up for a marathon in a few weeks to go from being a couch potato to an elite athlete overnight. However, realistic goals that are deliberately not set too high are a very good motivation to keep integrating more exercise and sport into a daily routine.

Walking a few steps more each day is a good way to discover the joy of exercise slowly without overdoing it.

Anyone who does a few more steps day by day can slowly discover the desire for exercise without overdoing it. Initially, it already helps a lot to get off at an earlier stop on the way to work and walk part of the way on foot, and to take a bicycle in good weather and take the stairs rather than the elevator.  

Major activities should preferably be done with a partner: long walks and hikes with the family or jogging, swimming and yoga with friends are more fun than always doing it alone. It is just as important to find the right form of sport. Along the way, feel free to try out a few and if necessary, seek advice from a doctor or trainers.  

Children's natural desire for exercise should be supported from the outset – for instance with joint outings and hiking and cycling tours or trial courses in a sports club. That fosters their motor, cognitive, psychosocial and emotional development, but also promotes fun in physical activities. Those who are highly active in their childhood and adolescence will also find it easier later on to incorporate regular activity into their daily routine. Furthermore, children train their perception when playing sport and running around and are thus better able to concentrate, which helps them with learning.

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