This article is part of a series in collaboration with ParticipACTION. Discover how "Everything gets better when you get active!"
What a difference a day makes! Twenty-four hours may not seem like a lot of time, but what we do within those 24 hours can have significant and lasting effects on our overall health and well-being. Ensuring those choices and behaviours offer positive benefits rather than negative ones is where the 24-Hour Movement Guidelines come in.
What are the 24-Hour Movement Guidelines?
The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines offer science-based recommendations on how to approach your daily movement in ways that will benefit you most over the long term. The recommendations apply to three main categories: physical activity, sedentary behaviours, and sleep. The main idea behind these guidelines is to integrate healthy amounts of all three in each 24-hour cycle.
What’s so important about physical activity, sedentary behaviours, and sleep?
Physical activity helps us build and maintain strength, mobility and cardiovascular health. Not only is moving our bodies regularly good for our physical health, but it also benefits our mental health by helping us cope with stress, reduce anxiety and depression, lift our moods and increase self-esteem.
Sedentary behaviours play a significant role in our lives, and include everything from earning a living to how we socialize or spend leisure time. Sitting, reclining or lying down may sound harmless, but the consequences of doing too much of these behaviours are actually scary! In fact, being sedentary for extended time periods can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some cancers.
Sleep is how we restore our bodies after effort and exertion. Too little, and in some cases even too much sleep, is linked to increases in health problems like obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and depression.
A healthy lifestyle balances all three of these categories appropriately, which is the primary goal of the 24-Hour Guidelines.
Broadly speaking, the less time we spend being inactive and the more we move our bodies each day, the better off we are over the long term. Regular daily movement makes us happier, healthier, more resilient and even improves our relationships with loved ones.
When it comes to physical activity, the 24-Hour Guidelines recommend adults between the ages of 18-64:
● Get at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week or 20 minutes per day of movement that gets your heart rate up and prompts a light sweat
● Perform two muscle strengthening activities at least twice a week
● Engage in several hours of light physical activity, including casual walking, household chores or gardening
Moving your body each day is easier and more enjoyable than you think.
To get in the moderate-to-vigorous zone, you can:
• Take a brisk 20-minute walk or wheel
• Swim at a public pool
• Go for a bike ride or jog
Muscle strengthening activities are movements that have our muscles extending and contracting so we can lift, push and pull heavy things. Examples include:
• Bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats
• Lifting weights
Some examples of light physical activity include:
• A gentle stretching routine
• A leisurely stroll
• Throwing a ball or frisbee for the dog
The 24-Hour Guidelines advise adults to limit the amount of time they spend being sedentary to eight hours a day or less. This can be particularly challenging when you have a full-time job that requires spending a lot of time at a desk and/or in front of a screen. Break up a sedentary workday by:
• Taking five-to-ten-minute active breaks every hour
• Using a standing or adjustable workspace
• Taking meetings or phone calls on the go
• Going for a walk during lunch
Light physical activity is another way we can cut down our sedentary time and boost our active time. The guidelines suggest people should aim for several hours of light movement each day.
Screens are everywhere: at work, at home and even on public transit. It’s not easy reducing the amount of time we spend streaming or scrolling, but the 24-Hour Guidelines recommend adults keep their recreational screen time down to under three hours a day. You can curb a binge-watching habit at night by placing time limits on your screen use or by creating screen-free hours in your personal life.
Adults need between seven to nine hours of good-quality sleep on a regular basis. Getting a good night’s sleep is key to maintaining healthy energy levels when you wake up. The more energy you have each day, the more likely you’ll be motivated to be active rather than sedentary. Some ways to improve your sleep include:
• Establishing a consistent bedtime and wake up time
• Avoiding screens for at least one hour before you fall asleep
• Creating a cool, dark sleeping space
• Keeping screens out of the bedroom
Use the 24-Hour Canadian Movement Guidelines to help you refine how you sleep, move and find rest each day. At a minimum, you’ll experience marked improvements in how you feel throughout your day, including reducing feelings of anxiety and depression. Don’t feel that you have to implement every recommendation all at once. Any progress you make toward moving more or sleeping better, for example, will have a positive ripple effect. A brisk walk will support better sleep, and being well rested will encourage you to get active the next day.
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