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Benefits of exercise

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It’s time to get moving. Research shows that regular exercise can improve your health, confidence and quality of life.

Exercise is a great stress buster. It can help you lose weight but, more importantly, it will lower your risk of developing major chronic diseases.

At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on five or more days a week is all that you need to start reaping the health benefits.

Children and young people need to be active for at least an hour every day, for example, through active play, sport or walking to and from school.

We know that reduced or no physical activity can have serious health consequences. 

Even a little bit of activity can lower the risk of developing major chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, some cancers and type two diabetes, by up to 50%. It can cut the risk of premature death by 20% to 30%.

“Being active is no longer just an option. Exercise is essential if we are to live healthy and fulfilling lives into old age,” says Professor Liam Donaldson, the Department of Health’s chief medical officer.

The benefits of physical activity include:

  • better health
  • more energy
  • reduced stress
  • stronger bones and muscles
  • better balance, strength, suppleness and mobility
  • improved sleep
  • improved body shape
  • reaching and maintaining a healthy weight
  • more social opportunities
  • a sense of achievement
  • more independence in later life

Recommended activity levels

  • Adults: 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least five days a week.
  • Children: 60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each day.
  • Targets can be achieved with 10-minute bursts of activity spread throughout the day.

Inactive lifestyles

People are less active nowadays partly because technology has made our lives easier. We move around less, and burn off less energy than we used to.

We drive cars or take buses. Machines wash our clothes. We entertain ourselves in front of a TV or computer screen.

There are fewer people doing manual work, and most of us have jobs that involve little physical effort. Housework, shopping and other necessary activities are far less demanding than for previous generations.

This means that each of us needs to think about increasing the types of activities that suit our lifestyle and can easily be included in our day. 

For some people, this could mean walking more briskly with the kids to and from school, or cycling to and from work.

For others, taking part in a more structured activity, such as a dance class or a gym session, a few times a week may be the most practical way of keeping fit and building activity into your daily routine.

Every little helps, and the recommended 30 minutes of moderate activity at least five times a week can be done in two or three 10 to 15 minute blocks. 

The 30-minutes-a-day guidelines can help with weight management. But for many people, especially if there’s no change in diet, 45 to 60 minutes of activity each day may be needed to prevent obesity.

People who have been obese and have managed to lose weight may need to do 60-90 minutes’ activity a day to avoid regaining weight. Activities such as brisk walking or cycling are considered to be as effective for weight loss as supervised exercise programmes.

Mood booster

Physical activity can boost mental wellbeing and change your outlook on life. It can help people with anxiety and depression, and might even prevent such problems from developing in the first place.

“People who are physically active tend to feel better about themselves,” says Professor Mark Batt, a Nottingham-based NHS consultant and special professor in sport and exercise medicine.

“As you become more physically active, you start thinking about other aspects of your health, such as diet, smoking and other health habits.

"It often leads to significantly beneficial lifestyle changes.”

Last reviewed: 01/03/2010

Next review due: 01/03/2012

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