How much activity is recommended?
For adults and older adults, the government recommends the following:
- at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity;
- or 75 minutes vigorous intensity activity;
- or a combination of both per week.
In addition we should aim to:
- perform two strength based activities a week;
- and minimise sedentary time.
There are separate guidelines for the following categories.
Summary of Guidelines by age group
Infants (less than 1 year) should be physically active several times every day in a variety of ways, including interactive floor-based activity, e.g. crawling.
For infants not yet mobile, this includes at least 30 minutes of tummy time spread throughout the day while awake (and other movements such as reaching and grasping, pushing and pulling themselves independently, or rolling over); more is better.
Tummy time may be unfamiliar to babies at first, but can be increased gradually, starting from a minute or two at a time, as the baby becomes used to it. Babies should not sleep on their tummies.
Toddlers should spend at least 180 minutes (3 hours) per day in a variety of physical activities at any intensity, including active and outdoor play, spread throughout the day; more is better.
Pre-schoolers should spend at least 180 minutes (3 hours) per day in a variety of physical activities spread throughout the day, including active and outdoor play. More is better; the 180 minutes should include at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity.
Children and Young People (5 to 18 years)
Children and young people should engage in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity for an average of at least 60 minutes per day across the week. This can include all forms of activity such as physical education, active travel, after-school activities, play and sports.
Children and young people should engage in a variety of types and intensities of physical activity across the week to develop movement skills, muscular fitness, and bone strength.
Children and young people should aim to minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary, and when physically possible should break up long periods of not moving with at least light physical activity.
Adults (19 to 64 years)
For good physical and mental health, adults should aim to be physically active every day. Any activity is better than none, and more is better still. Adults should do activities to develop or maintain strength in the major muscle groups. These could include heavy gardening, carrying heavy shopping, or resistance exercise. Muscle strengthening activities should be done on at least two days a week, but any strengthening activity is better than none.
Each week, adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) of moderate intensity activity (such as brisk walking or cycling); or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity (such as running); or even shorter durations of very vigorous intensity activity (such as sprinting or stair climbing); or a combination of moderate, vigorous and very vigorous intensity activity
Adults should aim to minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary, and when physically possible should break up long periods of inactivity with at least light physical activity.
Older Adults (65 years and over)
Older adults should participate in daily physical activity to gain health benefits, including maintenance of good physical and mental health, wellbeing, and social functioning. Some physical activity is better than none: even light activity brings some health benefits compared to being sedentary, while more daily physical activity provides greater health and social benefits.
Older adults should maintain or improve their physical function by undertaking activities aimed at improving or maintaining muscle strength, balance and flexibility on at least two days a week. These could be combined with sessions involving moderate aerobic activity or could be additional sessions aimed specifically at these components of fitness.
Each week older adults should aim to accumulate 150 minutes (two and a half hours) of moderate intensity aerobic activity, building up gradually from current levels. Those who are already regularly active can achieve these benefits through 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity, to achieve greater benefits. Weight-bearing activities which create an impact through the body help to maintain bone health.
Older adults should break up prolonged periods of being sedentary with light activity when physically possible, or at least with standing, as this has distinct health benefits for older people.
Physical activity during pregnancy and postpartum
The benefits of physical activity during pregnancy include:
- reduction in hypertensive disorders
- improved cardio-respiratory fitness
- lower gestational weight gain
- reduction in risk of gestational diabetes
The benefits of physical activity in the postpartum period (up to one year) include:
- reduction in depression
- improved emotional wellbeing
- improved physical conditioning
- reduction in postpartum weight gain and a faster return to pre-pregnancy weight
Physical activity can safely be recommended to women during and after pregnancy and has not been found to have any negative impacts on breastfeeding postpartum.
- Early years (0-5)
- Children and young people
- Disabled young people
- Adults and older adults
- Disabled adults
- Pregnant women
Alternatively there is a written summary of the guidelines by age group below.
Further information can be found via the following links:
- UK: Physical activity guidelines: UK chief Medical Officer’s Report
- Public Health England: Guidelines and benefits of physical activity
- Physical activity guidelines: infographics
What counts as moderate and vigorous activity?
Moderate and vigorous activity can be differentiated by the ‘talk test’: being able to talk but not sing indicates moderate intensity activity, while having difficulty talking without pausing is a sign of vigorous activity.
What counts as moderate cardiovascular physical activity:
- Being able to talk but not sing indicates a moderate intensity activity
- Brisk walking
- Swimming and water aerobics
- Gardening and pushing a lawnmower
- Active recreation
- Housework and domestic chores
- Carrying or moving moderate loads
What counts as vigorous intensity cardiovascular physical activity:
- Having difficulty talking without pausing is a sign of vigorous activity
- Jogging or running
- Walking/climbing briskly up a hill
- Fast cycling
- Fast swimming
- Most competitive sports
- Carrying or moving heavy loads
What counts as strength and balance
Muscle strength, bone health and the ability to balance underpin physical function. Each attribute contributes independently to overall health and functional ability, and in combination they provide lifelong benefits.
Adults should do activities to develop or maintain strength in the major muscle groups. Muscle strengthening activities should be done at least 2 days a week, but any strengthening activity is better than none.
The types of activities that can help maintain or improve aerobic capacity, strength, balance and bone health are:
- Going to the gym
- Carrying heavy shopping
- Ball games
- Racquet sports
- Aerobic circuit training
Minimise sedentary time
Periods of inactivity or sedentary behaviour are an independent risk factor for poor health outcomes. The guidelines state that: adults should aim to minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary, and when physically possible should break up long periods of inactivity with at least light physical activity. The term ‘when possible’ is emphasized as certain groups of people who depend daily on a wheelchair, unavoidably sit for long periods of time and sitting may therefore be the norm.
Further information on why we should sit less and some tips on how to do this can be found on the NHS UK website.
How can I become more active?
Taking the first step is usually the most difficult part. In this section there are some easy to access resources that can help you take that step to becoming more active. Activity doesn’t have to be hard or difficult. It can be something you enjoy or something around the house. Check out the following links to find ways you can become more active.
NHS Better Health
The NHS better health website has some great resources to get you active.
Within the move more section there are some useful links below:
- Videos for home work outs to try: Home work out videos
- The active 10 app makes exercise easy and can help track your walking activity. More information and a free download click the following link Active 10 – Home
- Couch to 5k for those looking to get into running Couch to 5K: week by week – NHS
- From NHS live well: sitting exercises, balance exercises, flexibility exercises, strength exercises.
Move More Sheffield website
There are some great resources from the Move More Sheffield website with ideas on how to get active at home and outdoors with separate categories for children, adults and older people.
We are Undefeatable: How to get active with a long term health condition
The “We are Undefeatable” campaign was set up to support and encourage finding ways to be active for people with long term health conditions. It was developed by 15 leading health and social care charities. This website introduces ideas on how to include activity into your daily routine as well as tips on how to get started with becoming more active. There are also some inspirational stories from people who have benefited from becoming active.
Access the We are Undefeatable website for further information.
Health benefits of physical activity
Regular physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of a range of diseases including some cancers and dementia. There is also evidence that it can help to prevent some and manage many common chronic conditions and diseases.
- 40% less chance of cognitive decline
- 35% less chance of Type 2 Diabetes
- 33% less chance of hypertension
- 47% less likely to get depression
- 30% reduction in all-cause mortality
- 66% less likely to get bone fractures
- 20% reduced chance of developing breast cancer
- 25% reduction in chance to develop coronary heart disease and stroke
- 19% less chance of developing colorectal cancer
Physical activity is as good or better than treatment with drugs for many conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and lower back pain, and has a much lower risk of any harm.
Further information can be accessed via the links below: