Island News

Middle rage

Written By : SUN FIJI NEWSROOM. Physical activity is a powerful drug. Its potential side-effects include feelings of euphoria and the prevention, discouragement and amelioration of a host of chronic
19 Sep 2009 12:00

Written By : SUN FIJI NEWSROOM. Physical activity is a powerful drug. Its potential side-effects include feelings of euphoria and the prevention, discouragement and amelioration of a host of chronic diseases. It does, however, have one major fault: it doesn’t come in tablet form.
The fact is that fewer than half of all adult Australians are doing even the recommended minimum: 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five times a week. What’s more, those least likely to be physically active are those who may stand to gain the most from it: the middle-aged.
Our middle years are when the early signs of chronic and increasingly common lifestyle diseases such as Type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease start to manifest, but when positive lifestyle changes can still stem the tide and stave off early death or decrepitude.
The oft-touted benefits of regular physical activity – and there are a multitude, from improving your mood to reducing your risk of colon cancer – make getting on with it seem like a no-brainer, but you only have to look at the lives of those in their 40s and 50s, most of whom are baby boomers, to see why it can be a tricky proposition: they’re busy.
There’s work. There’s often family. Some still have children at school and are also caring for their own elderly parents.
‘’The baby boomers are juggling a lot of commitments, too busy taking care of everyone else,’’ says Professor Billie Giles-Corti, the director of the Centre for the Built Environment and Health at the University of Western Australia. ‘’But it’s really about taking some time out for yourself – even three 10-minute bouts throughout the day will make a difference to your health.’’
Lack of time, however, is not the whole story. ‘’Even people who are active don’t feel they have enough time to do all the things they need to do,’’ says Giles-Corti. ‘’It’s about priority, and that’s the interesting thing. If you are really motivated to do it, you will fit it in. People say they don’t have time but the truth is they’ve got something else they’d rather do.’’
Researchers are starting to look at this vexed issue of why people do or don’t exercise from new angles. Twenty years ago the focus was very much on individual responsibility, says Associate Professor Gavin Turrell, from the school of public health at the Queensland University of Technology.
Now, given a distinct lack of success, the physical environment, social context and government policy are also being scrutinised.
‘’You might think that becoming sedentary is just an inevitable part of getting older,’’ says Giles-Corti, ‘’but when we look at data from the Netherlands and Germany, for example, a lot more people who are in their 70s still cycle and walk than do here. That’s partly because of the environment in which they live and their culture. Where you support people to walk and cycle, people are more likely to do it.’’
A new Australian study hopes to uncover further clues to the puzzle of the midlife activity slump. HABITAT is a four-year investigation into changes in physical activity among 11,000 Brisbane residents aged between 40 and 65. It is funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and is unique in that it takes into account a huge range of both subjective individual factors and objectively measured environmental factors.
It is surveying, for example, participants’ attitudes towards physical activity and perceptions of their environment as well as objectively measuring green spaces and average distance between each person’s house and the nearest bus stop, swimming pool and shop.
Factors to be surveyed include the participants’ health over time, their access to a motor vehicle, the hilliness of their suburb, and whether or not they own a dog.
Giles-Corti was involved with earlier research looking at the interplay between individual attitudes and environment. In a study that looked at who was walking 30 minutes a day, five times a week, as recommended, she says, only 8 per cent of people who had a poor attitude and lived in a poor environment were walking as recommended. Twenty-one per cent of those with a poor attitude who lived in a supportive environment were active and 41 per cent of those with a positive attitude and a supportive environment walked as recommended.
A positive outlook in this context, Giles-Corti says, meant a belief that you would reap benefits from physical activity as well as confidence that you could get it done despite tight timetables and other challenges.
Research also showed that social connections, whatever your age, were a vital determinant of physical activity. ‘’We know people are more likely to be active if there’s a social component to what they do,’’ Giles-Corti says. ‘’They’re more likely to exercise if they know someone’s waiting for them,’’ – a trainer, a friend ‘’or even a dog that’s wagging its tail at you, wanting to go for a walk’’.

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