For the last five weeks of the Imperial Valley Press’ Valley Challenge, we have been focusing on MyPlate with the five basic food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. 

But along with eating healthy by following the guidelines of MyPlate, The Dietary Guidelines for Americans also emphasizes “balancing calories with physical activity to manage weight.” We are all learning as we accept this challenge, eating healthy is not all we need to reach our goal.

So, what is physical activity? Physical activity simply means movement of the body that uses energy. Walking, gardening, briskly walking while pushing a baby stroller, climbing the stairs, playing soccer or dancing are all good examples of being active. For health benefits, physical activity should be moderate or vigorous in intensity.

Moderate physical activities include: walking briskly (about 3½ mph), bicycling (less than 10 mph), gardening, dancing, golf, water aerobics, canoeing and tennis. Vigorous physical activities include: Running/jogging (5 mph), walking very fast (4½ mph), bicycling (more than 10 mph), heavy yard work, such as chopping wood, swimming, aerobics and basketball.

You can choose moderate or vigorous intensity activities, or a mix of both each week. Only moderate and vigorous intensity activities increase your heart rate and therefore meet USDA physical activity recommendations. Activities that do not raise your heart rate include walking at a casual pace, such as grocery shopping and doing light household chores.

How much physical activity is needed? Adults ages 18-64 should do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes each week of aerobic, physical activity at a moderate level or 1 hour and 15 minutes each week of aerobic physical activity at a vigorous level. Being active 5 or more hour each week can provide even more health benefits. Each activity should be done for at least 10 minutes at a time. Adults should also do strengthening activites, like push-ups, sit-ups and lifting weights, at least 2 days a week.

Children and adolescents should do 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day. Most of the 60 minutes should be either moderate or vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity and should include vigorous intensity at least three days a week. As part of their physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle strengthening activities like climbing at least three days a week and bone-strengthening activities like jumping at least three days a week.

Children and adolescents are often active for short bursts of time rather than for sustained periods of time, and these short bursts can add up to meet physical activity needs. Physical activities for children and adolescents should be developmentally appropriate, fun and offer variety. There is not a specific recommendation for young children but, Children ages 2-5 should play actively several times each day. Their activity may happen in short bursts of time and not be all at once.

Physical activity is generally safe for everyone. The health benefits you gain from being active are far greater than the chances of getting hurt. Here are some things you can do to stay safe while you are active: if you have not been active in a while, start slowly and build up. Build up the time you spend before switching to activities that take more effort. Use the correct safety gear and sports equipment (helmets, good walking shoes). Choose a safe place to do your activity and see a health care provider if you have a problem.

Why is physical activity important? Regular physical activity can produce long term health benefits. People of all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities can benefit from being physically active. The more physical activity you do, the greather the health benefits. Being physical active can help you: increase your chances of living longer, feel better about yourself, decrease your chances of becoming depressed, sleep well at night, move around more easily, have stronger muscles and bones and stay at or get to a healthy weight.

When you are not physically active, you are more likely to: get heart disease, type 2 diabetes, have high blood pressure, have high blood cholesterol and have a stroke. Physical activity and nutrition work together for better health. Being active increases the amount of calories burned. As people age their metabolism slows, so maintaining energy balance requires moving more and eating less.

Here are some tips for increasing physical activity: join a walking group in the neighborhood or at the shopping mall. Recruit a partner for support and encouragement. Get the whole faminly involved-enjoy an afternoon bike ride with your kids. Walk up and down the soccer or softball field sidelines while watching the kids play. Clean the house or wash the car and, finally drive less and walk, skate, or cycle more. Enjoy your week by eating healthy and exercising more.

Mary Welch-Bezemek is a nutritionist with the Imperial County Cooperative Extension near Holtville.

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