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Physical Activity

When we talk about being physically active, we don’t mean putting on sports kit and joining the gym. You don’t have to get hot and sweaty. We are really talking about getting up and moving around more. Activities such as walking, gardening, housework, taking the stairs instead of the lift, swimming or cycling.

Always look out for ways to get bursts of activity into your day. There is increasing evidence that, unless you are a wheelchair user, sitting down too much can be a risk to your health.

Being physically active reduces your risk of major illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer by up to 50% and lowers your risk of early death by up to 30%. It's free, easy, has immediate benefits and you don't need a GP to get some.

Exercise is the miracle cure we've always had, but for too long we've neglected to take our recommended dose. Our health is now suffering as a consequence.

Being more physically active could mean you:

  • Have more energy
  • Feel more relaxed and better able to manage stress
  • Achieve a healthier body weight
  • Sleep better
  • Have better concentration and memory
  • Feel more confident
  • Have a lower risk of depression
  • Have a lower risk of dementia

To reduce your risk of suffering from health conditions, it is best to be active every day. Aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise a week which equates to 20–30 minutes a day. It counts every time you are active for 10 minutes or more. Make sure you do 10-minute bursts to add up to at least 20–30 minutes a day.

Do something for 10 minutes or more that makes you:

  • breathe harder
  • feel warmer
  • feel your heart beat faster.

You should still be able to hold a conversation while you are active (moderate activity).

Activities where you have to work even harder are called vigorous activity. There is evidence that vigorous activity can bring health benefits over and above that of moderate activity. You can tell when it's vigorous activity because you're breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite a bit. If you're working at this level, you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

Adults need to do strengthening activities that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) on at least 2 days a week. There are many ways you can strengthen your muscles, whether you're at home or in a gym. These can include carrying heavy shopping bags, yoga, pilates, lifting weights, doing exercises that use your own body weight, such as push-ups and sit-ups, heavy gardening, such as digging and shovelling, wheeling a wheelchair or lifting and carrying children.

Finding time can be tricky, but if you fit activity into things you’re already doing, you’ll be a lot more likely to get into a habit you want to stick to. This could mean walking to school or work instead of driving, getting off the bus a few stops early or taking the stairs instead of a lift. Try writing a list of everything you do in a day and see where you can slot in 10 minutes or more to be active. Lots of little things build up to make a big difference.

Choose an ‘active’ vs a sedentary lifestyle:

  • Brisk walk to/from the station vs Car to the station and train to work
  • Use the stairs vs Using the lifts or escalators
  • Go for a 15-30-minute walk with a colleague or friend vs Staying in your office during your lunch break
  • Prepare and cook food yourself (30 minutes) vs Ordering a takeaway for dinner
  • Play with the children vs Sitting down to watch TV as a family

The best time to make a change is now. Think about what you can do right now to be active. You might not feel like it to start with, but it gets easier over time, and in the end it will be a habit that you don't need to think about.

RECOMMENDED AMOUNTS OF EXERCISE

Babies under 1 year - Babies should be encouraged to be active throughout the day, every day in a variety of ways, including crawling. If they're not yet crawling, encourage them to be physically active by reaching and grasping, pulling and pushing, moving their head, body and limbs during daily routines, and during supervised floor play. Try to include at least 30 minutes of tummy time spread throughout the day when they're awake.

Toddlers (aged 1 to 2) - Toddlers should be physically active every day for at least 180 minutes (3 hours). The more the better. This should be spread throughout the day, including playing outdoors. The 180 minutes can include light activity such as standing up, moving around, rolling and playing, as well as more energetic activity like skipping, hopping, running and jumping. Active play, such as using a climbing frame, riding a bike, playing in water, chasing games and ball games, is the best way for this age group to get moving.

Pre-schoolers (aged 3 to 4) - Pre-schoolers should spend at least 180 minutes (3 hours) a day doing a variety of physical activities spread throughout the day, including active and outdoor play. The more the better. The 180 minutes should include at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity. Children under 5 should not be inactive for long periods, except when they're asleep. Watching TV, travelling by car, bus or train, or being strapped into a buggy for long periods are not good for a child's health and development. All children under 5 who are overweight can improve their health by meeting the activity guidelines, even if their weight does not change. To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, they may need to do additional activity and make dietary changes.

Young people (aged 5 to 18) – Children and young people need to do both aerobic exercise and exercises to strengthen their muscles and bones. They should aim for an average of at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a day across the week and a variety of types and intensities of physical activity across the week to develop movement skills, muscles and bones. Children and young people should reduce the time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity. Aim to spread activity throughout the day. All activities should make you breathe faster and feel warmer.

Adults (aged 65 and over) - Older adults should do some type of physical activity every day. Any type of activity is good for you, even if its light activity such a making a cup of tea, moving around your home, cleaning and dusting or making your bed. The more you do the better. Adults aged 65 and over should aim to be physically active every day. Do activities that improve strength, balance and flexibility on at least 2 days a week and try to incorporate at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity if you are already active, or a combination of both. Aim to reduce time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity.