To put the odds on your side, it is important to know the reasons that can hinder your goodwill. The first is undoubtedly that, nowadays, to move precisely requires wanting it. Travel on foot or by bicycle, absence of elevators and escalators, more widespread physical occupations: until the 1970s, physical activity was not to be scheduled during the week, it was an integral part of the daily life of a large part of the population. “During the history of humanity, evolution has selected individuals capable of minimizing their efforts, and therefore their energy expenditure, which made sense at a time when eating was a challenge”, recalls Matthieu Boisgontier. , professor in the School of Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Ottawa and author of Lazy Syndrome: a little precision to fight our physical inactivity (Éd. Dunod).
The decrease in daily effort was very rapid and our body did not adapt. Consequence: this natural tendency to minimize our energy expenditure keeps us glued to the sofa! Putting on your sneakers mobilizes cognitive resources, so it’s a kind of fight against your own brain that is at work. “When moving becomes a habit, this cognitive barrier disappears, explains Matthieu Boisgontier. But let’s be honest, building a habit takes time!” Forget the 21 days to anchor a new behavior that we often hear about. “I would rather say that it takes between three and six months, notes Boris Gojanovic, sports doctor, health and performance manager at the Hôpital de la Tour (Meyrin). And it’s never really completely acquired! To anchor the habit, it is often very useful to plan it, like any other activity. This at least circumvents the excuse of lack of time.»
Be consistent with your living space
Never too late to get started
Better late than never, including for physical activity! A study, published in the medical journal JAMA in 2019, showed that people who started an activity between the ages of 40 and 60 had, in the long term, benefits similar to those who had practiced throughout their life. But even after 65, it’s not too late to get moving. Physical activity helps fight against muscle loss and osteoporosis. Moving regularly, according to your possibilities, is the best way to maintain your motor skills and ultimately your autonomy. It can also make it possible to dispense with treatment or slow down the progression of a chronic disease, such as diabetes or hypertension.
The specialist receives in consultation people who wish to (re)enter the sport. “I start by doing an ‘inventory’ to find out where the person is coming from. I’m not talking about the recommended 30 minutes of moderate activity per day: if the person isn’t used to moving, they don’t know what that means. Ditto for the famous 10,000 steps: if she takes 3,000, it will seem unattainable to her!”, explains Boris Gojanovic.
To hope to set up a new habit, the important thing is that the activities envisaged are coherent with the living space of the person: his level of practice, his objectives and his constraints. “If she is used to walking, we can try to add a little intensity, suggests the specialist. Otherwise, we can already start with small actions that break the sedentary lifestyle during the day. Getting up to go to the photocopier or having a face-to-face conversation with a colleague are small gestures which, repeated every 15-20 minutes, do not constitute a physical activity in themselves but at least make it possible to fight against the many deleterious effects of prolonged sitting, starting with muscle numbness, responsible for back pain and neck pain. Unfolding blood vessels and increasing oxygen demand also boosts circulation, which benefits all organs, including the brain.
And for those who definitely have no appetite for physical effort? It is always possible to get back in motion without going through fitness or running sessions. Gardening, dancing, DIY, even housework mobilize certain muscles and/or can strain the cardiovascular system. Be careful however, the benefits are proportional to the intensity and frequency of the practice: pruning a few roses at the weekend is not comparable to several hours of tango per week!
Choosing an activity that is fun can also help motivate you. But if moving is really not your forte, perhaps you should accept that physical activity is just a simple element of healthy living. “Who enjoys brushing their teeth? Yet we are a majority to do it several times a day, ”says Dr. Gojanovic with a smile. And the three minutes of brushing are also an excellent opportunity to do some bending or stretching!
The benefits of physical activity on the brain overestimated?
Could this be a small stone in the pond of prevention that an Italian research team has just thrown? Luis Ciria and his colleagues from the University of Granada (Spain) indeed published at the end of March, in the scientific journal Nature Human Behavioura study in which they conclude that the cognitive benefits of physical activity are negligible, or even non-existent, and therefore suggest modifying the international recommendations.
The researchers carried out a review of 24 meta-analyses (studies compiling the results of other publications) relating to physical activity and cognitive functions, sifting through the results of 109 studies involving 11,266 healthy volunteers. Commenting in detail on his research on Twitter, Luis Ciria said: “Our results suggest that the literature on physical exercise and cognition has developed in a cluster, ignoring critical voices and conflicting results.”
Matthieu Boisgontier, professor at the University of Ottawa (Canada), has also just published, in the journal Scientific Reports, a genetic study involving more than 250,000 participants and showing that, over the long term, physical exercise does indeed have an effect on cognitive functions. He emphasizes the quality of the publication of his Spanish colleagues but warns against conclusions that would go a little too quickly, emphasizing: “Changing international recommendations on the basis of a single study, it is not like that that research works! These conclusions need to be confirmed by other teams. Let’s wait and see what will be released in the next two years.”
Published in Le Matin Dimanche on 07/05/2023