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Physical Activity for your health

Physical Activity is defined as “any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure.” What this means is that anytime that we are not sedentary (lying or sitting down for long periods) our bodies are moving and we are being physically active, which we know is good for us. Most of the benefits of physical activity can be split into three categories; physical, mental and social:

Physical Benefits

  • reduce the risk of hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer, depression and the risk of falls by up to 50%
  • improve bone and functional health 
  • are a key determinant of energy expenditure, and thus fundamental to energy balance and weight control
  • it can help your brain health and memory

Mental Benefits

  • improved sleep by making you feel more tired at the end of the day
  • happier moods – the release of feel-good hormones that make you feel better
  • managing stress and anxiety – physical activity gives your brain something to focus on and can be a positive coping strategy
  • reducing the risk of depression
  • better self-esteem – as you improve and meet your goals this will help you feel better

Social Benefits

  • connecting with people – doing physical activity is a great way to meet new people and increase your social circle
  • motivation – being active with friends can help to make physical activity a habit
  • enjoyment – whilst exercising by yourself can also be enjoyable, doing activity with friends can make it more of a positive experience. 

How intense should the physical activity be?

Physical Activity can be split into three intensities:

Light Intensity – This is very light intensity activity that is associated with everyday activities such as standing up, moving around, doing usual daily household activities. 

Moderate Intensity – This can be defined as activity that increases your heart rate and makes you feel warm and sweat a bit. Activities that could be classed as Moderate Intensity are brisk walking, recreational cycling, doubles tennis, light jogging. If you are exercising at a moderate intensity you should be able to talk but not sing the words to a song

Vigorous Intensity – Vigorous intensity physical activity is where you have to work even harder. If you are exercising at a vigorous level you will be breathing hard and fast and your rate would have gone up a lot. You will be able to say a few words but not hold a conversation at this level. Examples of vigorous intensity activities are  

For you to feel a lot of the physical benefits of physical activity than you will need to be doing moderate or vigorous intensity physical activity

How much physical activity should I be doing?

To stay healthy, adults should aim to be active every day for a minimum of ten minutes a day, and aim to achieve a total of 150 minutes of moderate intensity per week, or 75 minutes vigorous intensity, or a combination of both. 

Whilst a lot of adults might have heard about “150 minutes a week”, one of the key physical activity guidelines is to build strength on at least two days a week. This will help to keep bones, muscles and joints strong, especially as we start to lose strength as we age. The gym is a great place to go to do strength training as they have resistance machines and free weights to help you achieve this, however it is not the only place to do strength training. Strength training can also be achieved by doing other activities such as:

  • Yoga
  • Carrying heavy bags
  • Lifting and carrying children 
  • Heavy gardening such as digging or 
  • Home exercise such as lunges, squats, sit-to-stand

Other home strength exercises can be found here https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/strength-exercises/

Additionally for older adults to reduce the chance of falls and frailty, balance activities should be completed twice a week. Activities that are good for balance training are dance, tai chi and bowls. Other balance activities can be found here https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/balance-exercises/

Doing both strength and balance activities together is an evidence based way to maintain good health in older age, by improving bone density and therefore reducing the chances of having a fall.


A few myths about physical activity

We should be walking 10,000 steps a day – Whilst walking a lot is great for your health, there is no evidence that 10,000 is the magic number of steps needed. Think of it more as when you do walk try and walk at a brisk intensity for at least 10 minutes at a time. The origin of ’10,000 steps a day’ actually came from a Japanese marketing campaign in the 1960’s. 

Sport and Physical Activity is too expensive – Whilst some sports can be expensive such as skiing or golf due to the equipment needed, or the location/venue that the sport is played in, most sports and activities that don’t require specialist equipment can be very affordable to take part in. Examples of free activities are:

If I do sport/physical activity I will hurt myself -  Whilst there is a chance of developing an injury by taking part in sport and physical activity, the chance of this happening is reduced by wearing appropriate clothing, using correct technique and not taking part beyond your means. If you are unsure about any of this then it is always best to ask a professional such as an exercise instructor or a sports coach. 

Lastly, ensure that sedentary activity such as sitting and lying down for long periods (sleeping is fine, just not lying down for long periods in the day!) is reduced as much as possible, and doing something is better than nothing.

“If exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost effective drugs ever invented.” (Dr Nick Cavill a health promotion consultant).

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