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The recommended levels of physical activity

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Be active every day

You can be active in many different ways.

There are government recommended levels which can be helpful as a target to aim for. But many people find the easiest thing is to try and do something active every day.

Examples of being active include:

  • 'Active Travel', which means making journeys on foot, or by cycling or using a scooter
  • Physical work or household chores (like mowing the lawn or vacuuming)
  • Recreation and leisure (like sports, planned activity, games or play)

Try to spend as little time sitting still (being sedentary) as possible.

If you don't usually do any (or very little) physical activity, then starting to do small amounts will be really beneficial. You can then build up to the recommended amount. Doing some physical activity is better than none.

If you're pregnant or have given birth in the past 6 months, please see the advice in the last section on this page.

Please note that if you have any existing medical conditions, you should talk to your medical practitioner before starting any sort of exercise programme. 

Activity levels for adults

There are two main types of physical activity. These are:

  • Activity that raises your breathing rate. This is also called cardio or aerobic exercise
  • Activity that builds strength. These are sometimes called 'resistance' or 'strengthening' exercises

Physical activity that raises your breathing rate

There are two intensity levels for physical activity that raises your breathing rate:

  • 'Moderate' activity is any activity that raises your breathing rate. While active at this level, you'd be able to talk but not sing.
  • 'Vigorous' activity is exercise where you can't say more than a few words without pausing for breath.

It's recommended adults should do at least 150 minutes (which is 2.5 hours) of moderate activity or 75 minutes (1.25 hours) of vigorous activity per week.

You can also do a combination of both. Examples of activity that counts towards physical activity include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Swimming
  • Aerobics or water aerobics
  • Riding a bike
  • Dancing
  • Tennis
  • Pushing a lawn mower
  • Rollerblading
  • Sports like football, rugby, netball and hockey
  • Skipping rope
  • Gymnastics
  • Martial arts

Whether it's moderate or vigorous would depend on how hard or fast you're doing the activity. It also depends on what your own current level of fitness is.

Strengthening activities

Strength training is also called resistance training or weight training. It's any strength activity that makes your muscles work harder than usual.

Examples of strengthening activities include:

  • Carrying heavy shopping bags or household items
  • Heavy gardening, such as digging and shovelling
  • Climbing stairs
  • Lifting weights
  • Hill walking
  • Cycling (fast or up slopes)
  • Push-ups, sit-ups and squats, leg raises and 'planks'
  • Yoga

You can use different items to add weight or resistance to make movements into strengthening exercises. These can range from specialist equipment such as exercise bikes to things you might have in your kitchen cupboards. You could use:

  • Household items. Heavy shopping bags, household items or gardening equipment are all great. If they are too much for now, start with something like a tin of beans, or whatever weight is right for you at your current level.
  • Your own body weight - this is free and convenient. You can use it for squats, push-ups and chin-ups.
  • Specialist weights. You could use classic strength training tools such as dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells or weighted balls (called medicine balls)
  • Specialist equipment - you can find things like weight machines in gyms. You can adjust the equipment to suit your current level.
  • Resistance bands - like giant rubber bands - these provide resistance when stretched. They are portable and you can adapt them to most workouts.

How much strength training should I be doing?

It's recommended that adults do strengthening exercises on two or more days each week. To get a good workout, repeat them until you feel tired.

Try to vary the activities, so that you work on all the main muscle groups. These are legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms.

The guidance is to do strengthening activities as well as moderate or vigorous activity.

Balancing exercises

Balancing exercises improve strength, balance and co-ordination. They can help you maintain and improve your muscle strength and avoid falls as you get older.

This type of fitness can help people to live independently for longer. It's recommended that those aged 65-plus aim to do balancing exercises on three or more days each week. But they are beneficial to all ages.

To see how strong your standing balance is, if you can safely do so, lift one foot and see how long you can hold it there.

You might want to do this near a wall or a stable chair in case you lose your balance. Balance exercises should improve this measure over time.

Examples of balance exercises can include:

  • Simple exercises you do at home without equipment. These can be leg raises and exercises designed to shift your weight from one position to another.
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Tai chi  

The NHS Live Well site has visual examples of balance exercises which you can do at home. 

Are you relying on physical activity too much?

Please remember that these are guidelines. It's always best to build up fitness over time, and it's important to know when to slow down or stop. Signs of exercise addiction include:

  • Exercising in secret
  • Feeling constantly tired and exhausted
  • Feeling guilty or anxious when not exercising

The charity Mind have some useful guidance about over-exercising and exercise addiction and developing a healthy relationship with physical activity

If you have concerns about your level of exercise, please speak to your GP.  

Physical activity guidance if you're pregnant or recently gave birth

If you're pregnant or have given birth in the past 6 months, it's recommended that you aim to do a variety of regular physical activity. If there's anything you're unsure of, always check with your midwife or health visitor.

This includes activity that raises your breathing rate and muscle strengthening exercises. You should also limit the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting still). Gentle stretching may be helpful too.

If you're pregnant

If you don't normally do any, or very little physical activity then start doing small amounts and build up to the recommended amount. Doing some physical activity is better than none.

If you are already doing moderate intensity physical activity prior to your pregnancy, you should be able to continue to do this during your pregnancy.

Your body's centre of gravity is also changing constantly during pregnancy and gradually starts shifting up and forward as your uterus enlarges. Because your body is not accustomed to this, you'll be less coordinated and may find it harder to maintain your balance.

Listen to your body and adapt physical activities accordingly. It's recommended you check with your midwife to ensure that this is low risk for you and your baby. Your midwife may advise against any exercises where you lay on your back.

Want to learn more about physical activity during pregnancy? See Active Norfolk's guide to the benefits of being active during pregnancy and the NHS information on exercise in pregnancy.

If you're post partum (given birth in the past six months)

If you've given birth in the last 6 months, it's safe for you to be physically active. After delivery, it's advised that you should increase your physical activity gradually.

If you had an uncomplicated delivery, your midwife may be able to advise at your six-week check that it's safe for you to begin increasing your activity levels.

If you experienced complications during delivery or are healing from a caesarean section, you may need additional time to recover before you're able to increase the intensity of your exercises.

Physical activity after childbirth does offer many benefits, so it's advised to discuss what works best for you with your midwife or medical practitioner.

What's next

See some tips on getting more active.

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