When surveyed, the things that people say are important to them are not gold and silver, but rather health, happiness and family. I reflected on that when sitting down working out what to buy my daughters for their birthdays. Was chocolate and more Paw Patrol DVD's the answer?
It struck me that helping Nina and Francesca to be active is the single best present I could give them. If you go from being a couch potato to a regular exerciser, on average you will do better at school, live seven years longer, and best of all, be happier. It is probably also the best present we can give ourselves, our friends, and the rest of our family.
But the truth is that in the UK, we are less active than at any time in history. We used to be physically active to survive- to catch prey or to avoid being lunch ourselves. In more recent times manual labour ensured regular exercise, but now the majority of us spend most of our time behind a desk. Perhaps the UK is partly to blame for the worldwide pandemic of physical inactivity. After all, we have invented the TV, the telephone, the fridge, and generally most of the best friends of the couch potato.
For regular exercisers there is bad news. You are more likely to get blisters, and athlete's foot, but stats from NHS Scotland show that the risk of developing major health issues such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, depression and dementia can be very substantially decreased by regular exercise. All cause mortality (early death) - can be reduced by 30% - I'm a Scotsman and like a bargain so that works for me.
So what must we do to get these benefits? Run ultra-marathons? Play squash? The good news is that these benefits are what you would get from walking 30 minutes, five times a week. Doing more, may bring additional benefits, and any form of exercise counts. They apply to young, old, rich or poor, everyone can benefit. Evidence is also consistent and growing that "green exercise" in the great outdoors has even more benefit than pumping iron or smashing out the kilometres on a treadmill. It is likely that fresh air, green space, and better opportunities to socialise are part of the reason.
So the evidence is clear- what simple steps can we take to get active and stay active. Here are my top five:
1) Prioritise 30 minutes each day. Or as Dr Mike Evans would say "can you limit your screentime, sleeping and not being active to 23.5 hrs per day?"
2) Build it into your day if you are short of time. For example consider walking, cycling or running to work, or go out for a walking meeting rather than being chained to a desk. Take the stairs when you can.
3) Get outside. Nature's gym is the best of all. It makes us happier and healthier. There are plenty places even in the biggest of cities
4) Recognise that forming an exercise habit is not easy. But no matter how slowly you are going, you are still lapping those that are on the couch
5) Carry your trainers or your walking shoes everywhere with you, and put a spare pair in the back of the car. If you have them handy you are more likely to use them
Dr. Andrew Murray is a Merrell UK ambassador.