Physical activity and its association with improved health has been extensively researched over many decades. Below are some the benefits of exercise that have been shown in the literature:
Maintains Healthy Weight
Manages Stress Levels
Impoves quality of life
Adults who are physically active report a more positive mood
Decreases mortality (rates of death) and morbidity (rates of having a disease)
It decreases the risk of many diseases including:
Type II diabetes
The previous physical activity guidelines in 2011 suggested that we get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise per week. The scientific evidence has continued to accumulate since then and updated guidelines on the volume, duration, and frequency of physical activity for substantial health benefits for adults were introduced in 2019. The government also introduced guidelines for infants (ages 0-5), children (ages 5-18), disabled adults, pregnant women, and for women 12 months post-partum.
The 2019 guidelines now suggest a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, but there have been additions that include:
2 strength based activities a week for joint, bone, and muscle health
Minimise periods of inactivity. We shouldn't be sedentary for periods over 45 minutes (excluding sleep)
Aim to do physical activity everyday
Research shows that short periods of maximal intensity exercise of less than 75 minutes may have similar health benefits to the 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise.
These guidelines seem very simple but there could be some questions that remain unanswered, and some added advice to help people achieve these guidelines.
"What is moderate and vigorous intensity?"
There has been lots of research into monitoring intensity levels, especially in elite sports where research has looked at VO2max levels, HR zones, lactic acid thresholds and so on. For the general public it is less important to have a 'gold-standard' measure, instead a simple guide can be used to make it easy for you to tell how hard you are working.
The most simple way to tell if you are in the moderate intensity bracket is to use your breathing and how easy it is to talk. If you are able to complete a whole sentance without having to pause to take a breath then you are working at a moderate intensity. If you have to take a deep breath after every couple of words, then you are working vigorously.
If you want to get a bit more scientific, you can grab yourself a heart rate monitor such as using a Garmin watch or fitbit. These will be able to tell you what HR zone you are in based on the percentage of your maximal HR.
"What counts as strength training?"
Strength training is defined as exercise that is designed to increase muscle mass and strength. Normally this would consist of lifting heavy weights or resistance machines in the gym. However, the government guidelines also include more general activites that include lifting heavy objects such as carrying heavy bags and gardening. It is difficult to quantify how much work you are doing in these activities. An activity you may think is strength training may not be sufficient enough to supply your body with enough resistance to qualify as strength training. Therefore it is best to do structured strength training with weights at home or in the gym. There are plenty of home based strength routines available on youtube. Here is one example of athletics team Preston Harriers circuit training video:
"What if I dont have the time to do that amount of exercise?"
As mentioned before the guidelines state that very high to maximal intensity for less than 75 minutes a week could provide health benefits similar to the 150 minutes of moderate activity. That means you could do 10 minutes of maximal activity a day. This type of training in also called HIT (high-intensity training). There are hundreds and thousands of fitness accounts on youtube that offer many ideas for this. Most include doing squats, lunges, high jumps, stationary running, running up steps, skipping etc etc, in a circuit type work out that last 30 seconds to 1 minute per exercise.
The guidelines also suggest that the 150 minutes can in fact be accumulated in bouts of any length, so you could do shorter 25 mins for 6 days of the week, or you could do 75 minutes on Saturday and Sunday, or somewhere in-between!
"I have tried to do the suggested amount of activity, but I end up getting too tired and get aches and pains"
If you haven't done any physical activity before, your body isn't used to the workload that you are putting it through when you try to do 150 minutes of activity. Your body will get sensations of DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), and could actually increase your risk of injury as your tendons are sensitive to sharp increases in load.
That is why it is important to slowly progress your activity levels, and aim to hit the 150 mins after a certain amount of time, such as a couple of months. You can give yourself an easy achievable starting point, say 30 minutes a week of 2 x 15 minute quick walks. Then give yourself checkpoints each week for example:
Week 1: 2 x 15 minutes quick walk (total: 30mins)
Week 2: 3 x 15 minutes quick walk (total: 45mins)
Week 3: 2 x 20 minute quick walk (total: 40mins)
Week 4: 3 x 20 minute quick walk (total: 60mins)
Week 6: 3 x 30 minute quick walk (total: 90mins)
Week 7: 4 x 30 minute quick walk (total: 120mins)
Week 8: 5 x 30 minute quick walk (total: 150mins)
Your next aim could then be to introduce some jogging into your walks!
"Does that meant I dont have to do more than the 150 minutes of moderate intensity?"
The guidelines is the MINIMUM amount of exercise that you can do to get a significant amount of health benefits. If you hit 150 minutes a week already, then you should still aim to increase over time to continue to increase the benefits you get each week.
Thanks for reading, if you wish for any more information on this topic then take a look at the GOV.UK website:
Sport and Health Exercise Health Science BSc