An active lifestyle is just as important as a balanced diet to maintain health. In this area you can find out more about how much physical activity is good for you and your family.
Babies and young children should be physically active every day as it is important for their growth and development. Activity of all intensities should be encouraged, from light activity to more energetic physical activity.

BABIES

Babies should be encouraged to be active every day. Before they begin to crawl, encourage activities such as reaching and grasping, pulling and pushing, moving their head, body and limbs, and supervised floor play. Once babies begin to crawl and move around by themselves, help them to be as active as possible in a safe, supervised environment.

TODDLERS

Once children are able to walk on their own, they should be physically active for at least 180 minutes, spread throughout the day. This 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 is the best way for this age group to get moving e.g. using a climbing frame, riding a bike, ball games.

ALL YOUNG CHILDREN

As well as keeping active, we should discourage long periods of inactivity in all young children, except for sleeping. It is not good for a child’s health and development to spend long periods watching TV, travelling by car, bus or train, or being strapped into a buggy.

For overweight children under 5, their health can be improved by meeting the activity guidelines, even if their weight doesn’t change.

An active lifestyle is important to maintain or improve health at all ages. It’s recommended that school-aged children aim for between one and several hours of moderate to vigorous activity every day.* The period from childhood to early adulthood is peak bone-building time, and weight bearing exercise plays a key role. Exercise is also important to boost energy levels, build strong muscles, increase self-esteem, and improve heart health. However, unfortunately, most children don’t do enough activity, and inactive pastimes are becoming more common.

Exercise doesn’t just mean playing sports; everyday activities such as walking and games like tag, skipping and hide and seek count too, as well as dancing, bike riding, skateboarding and walking the dog.

Children can accumulate the hour of activity in several small chunks of 10 or 15 minutes, rather than all at once. For example, walking to and from school might add up to half an hour, playing tag at break-time another 10 minutes, a kick-about in the park 15 minutes etc. Children soon realise they can build up their daily hour with activities they enjoy.

* Moderate aerobic activity means children are working hard enough to raise their heart rate and sweat. However they should still be able to have a conversation.

* Vigorous aerobic activity means children are breathing harder and faster, their heart rate has gone up quite a bit. At this level, they won’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

Moderate activity includes bike riding and playground activities. Vigorous activity includes fast running, swimming and football.

An active lifestyle is just as important as a balanced diet for maintaining healthy weight. It’s recommended that young people should try to do at least one hour and up to several hours of moderate to vigorous activity* every day.

Being active can help teens:

  • maintain a healthy weight
  • build strong muscles and bones
  • increase self-esteem
  • improve heart health

Unfortunately, most young people don’t do enough activity. According to the Health Survey for England (2016), only 15% of boys and 9% of girls aged 13-15 in England meet physical activity recommendations. Exercise doesn’t just mean playing sports; everyday activities such as walking count too, and so do dancing, skateboarding and household chores.

The hour of activity doesn’t have to be done all at once; it can be accumulated in several smaller chunks of 10 to 15 minutes.

* ‘Moderate intensity activity’ means something that’s the equivalent of brisk walking or bike riding – enough to feel warm, have increased heart rate and breathe a bit more heavily than usual. Vigorous activity is of a higher intensity, causing a bigger increase in heart rate and breathing and making it difficult to carry a conversation.

Not only is physical activity important, but reducing the time spent inactive also affects young people’s health. Not all young people enjoy doing sports, but activities such as dancing, taking the dog for a walk and helping with housework also count towards the daily activity goal.

It is also important that young people do some muscle-strengthening exercise every week.

Examples of muscle-strengthening activities suitable for teenagers include sit ups and press ups, goal games such as football and basketball, racquet sports, marital arts, etc.

An active lifestyle is an important part of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

To stay healthy, adults aged 19-64 are advised to be active every day, the official physical activity guidelines are:

  • Have at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week
  • Include strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms

OR

  • Have 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, such as running or a game of singles tennis every week
  • Include strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)

OR

  • Have a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week. For example, two 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of fast walking equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity
  • Include strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)

This doesn’t have to be done all at once; it can be accumulated in several smaller chunks of 10 to 15 minutes. Another way to approach it is to do 30 minutes on at least 5 days a week. As well as sport, everyday activities such as walking and housework can count too. Dancing, cycling, aerobics and so on are fun ways to be physically active. We should all try not to sit for too long, and break up long periods of inactivity with some light exercise.

Physical activity:

  • Reduces risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes
  • Helps maintain your ability to achieve everyday tasks at ease
  • Improves self-esteem
  • Reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety
Staying active throughout your pregnancy will help you adapt to your changing body shape, cope with labour, and help you get back to your pre-pregnancy weight after baby is born.

Which exercises are best during pregnancy?

First of all, you can continue your normal activity such as walking, dancing, yoga, or whatever sport you were used to doing before your pregnancy. Research suggests that not only is exercise not harmful to your baby, but women who keep more active experience less problems later in their pregnancy, and labour.

Although it is advised to continue with your normal activities, you must remember that your body is constantly changing throughout your pregnancy, and you may find that you become tired more easily, so it is important to listen to your body and not exhaust yourself. You may need to reduce the amount or intensity of your activity as your pregnancy progresses, or if advised to do so by your midwife or doctor. If you take part in exercise classes, make sure the instructor is fully qualified and knows that you are pregnant, including how many weeks. Swimming is popular during pregnancy as the water supports a growing bump.

Should I avoid any exercises while pregnant?

There are plenty of exercises you can still do during your pregnancy. However there are a few which are best avoided for both your and baby’s health. Contact sports and those which may risk a fall such as horse riding aren’t recommended. You may already be aware that you shouldn’t lie on your back while you sleep as baby can put pressure on a main artery to the heart – this is the same for when you are exercising.

I didn’t exercise regularly before I became pregnant, should I start an intense fitness regime now?

If you weren’t very active before your pregnancy it is best to take things slowly. You can start with short sessions of gentle activity for 15 minutes at a time. If you start a fitness class, tell the instructor you are pregnant so they can advise you accordingly. You can gradually increase your exercise intensity, and sessions to 30 minutes a day, at least four times a week as your body gets used to it, but don’t rush!

If you would like some more information about exercising during pregnancy, visit Tommys

BONE LOSS YEARS

To reduce the rate of natural bone loss that begins around the age of 35 aim to do weight bearing and muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week.

See the ‘children and young adults’ section above for examples of relevant activities.

Examples of other suitable activities for adults include:

  • brisk walking, including Nordic walking
  • moderate-resistance weightlifting
  • stair climbing
  • carrying or moving heavy loads such as groceries
  • exercising with resistance bands
  • heavy gardening, such as digging and shovelling
  • cross-training machines

Guidelines for older adults aged 65 and over

Older adults aged 65 or older, who are generally fit and have no health conditions that limit their mobility, should try to be active daily and should do:

  • at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or walking every week
  • include strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

OR

  • 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week, and
  • Include strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

OR

  • a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week. For example, two 30-minute runs, plus 30 minutes of fast walking, equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, and
  • include strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

A rule of thumb is that one minute of vigorous activity provides the same health benefits as two minutes of moderate activity.

As with all age groups, you should also try to break up long periods of sitting with light activity, as sedentary behaviour is now considered an independent risk factor for ill health, no matter how much exercise you do.

Older adults at risk of falls, such as people with weak legs, poor balance and some medical conditions, should do exercises to improve balance and co-ordination on at least two days a week. Examples include yogatai chi and dancing.

Moderate activity will raise your heart rate and make you breathe faster and feel warmer. One way to tell if you’re exercising at a moderate level is if you can still talk, but you can’t sing the words to a song.

Daily chores such as shopping, cooking or housework don’t count towards your 150 minutes, because the effort isn’t enough to raise your heart rate, but they are important nonetheless, as they break up periods of sitting.

What counts as vigorous aerobic activity?

There is good evidence that vigorous activity can bring health benefits over and above that of moderate activity.

Examples of activities that require vigorous effort for most people include:

Vigorous activity makes you breathe hard and fast. If you’re working at this level, you won’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath.

In general, 75 minutes of vigorous activity can give similar health benefits to 150 minutes of moderate activity.

What activities strengthen muscles?

Muscle strength is necessary for:

  • all daily movement
  • building and maintaining strong bones
  • regulating blood sugar and blood pressure
  • maintaining a healthy weight

Muscle-strengthening exercises are counted in repetitions and sets. A repetition is one complete movement of an activity, like a bicep curl or a sit-up. A set is a group of repetitions.

For each strength exercise, try to do:

  • at least one set
  • eight to 12 repetitions in each set

To gain health benefits from strength exercises, you should do them to the point where you find it hard to complete another repetition.

There are many ways you can strengthen your muscles, whether at home or in the gym. Examples of muscle-strengthening activities include:

  • carrying or moving heavy loads, such as groceries
  • activities that involve stepping and jumping, such as dancing
  • heavy gardening, such as digging or shovelling
  • exercises that use your body weight for resistance, such as push-ups or sit-ups
  • yoga
  • lifting weights

Try Strength and Flex, a 5-week exercise plan for beginners, to improve your strength and flexibility.

You can do activities that strengthen your muscles on the same day or on different days as your aerobic activity – whatever’s best for you.

Muscle-strengthening exercises are not an aerobic activity, so you’ll need to do them in addition to your 150 minutes of aerobic activity.

Some vigorous activities count as both an aerobic activity and a muscle-strengthening activity.

Examples include:

  • circuit training
  • aerobics
  • running
  • football
  • rugby
  • netball
  • hockey

Keeping as active as possible is important as we get older. As well as helping to keep heart and lungs healthy, an active lifestyle can help to maintain bone and muscle strength, flexibility and balance. It can also mean a better appetite and higher energy needs making it easier to meet our nutrient requirements.

Some physical activity is better than none. However the more activity you do the greater the health benefits.

Older adults aged 65 or above, who are generally fit and have no health conditions that limit their mobility, should try to be active daily and should do at least 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) of moderate-intensity* aerobic activity every week. This can be accumulated in smaller chunks of 10 to 15 minutes, rather than all at once. One approach to this is to do 30 minutes on at least 5 days a week.

Everyday activities such as walking and housework also count, as well as gardening, golf, bowls, dancing, swimming etc.

Alternatively, if you are already regularly active at moderate intensity you could try 75 minutes of vigorous activity** spread across the week or combinations of moderate and vigorous activity.

In addition older adults should undertake activities to improve muscle strength*** on at least 2 days a week.

* ‘Moderate activity’ means something that’s the equivalent of brisk walking or ballroom dancing – enough to make you feel warm and breathe a bit more heavily than usual.

** ‘Vigorous intensity activity’ will make you get even warmer and breathe much harder, making it more difficult to carry on a conversation. Your heart will also beat rapidly. Examples include climbing stairs and running.

*** ‘Physical activity to strengthen muscles’ will involve using body weight or working against resistance and you should use all major muscle groups. Some housework can help such as carrying the groceries, but you could also try activities that involve stepping and jumping such as dancing or if you can’t do this try chair aerobics.

Last reviewed: 03/2019
Next review due: 03/2021