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Physical activity is any movement using your muscles that helps improve or maintain your physical fitness.
This information looks at current UK recommendations on physical activity, and the different types of activities that can help you achieve these. How much you can do will depend on different factors – see our information about How much activity is right for you?
You can order our Move More pack| to help you when you're getting started.
In the UK adults are advised to do at least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity (see sidebox) physical activity a week. This could be 30 minutes of activity on five days of the week, which could be broken up into 10 minutes of activity three times a day. Adults are also advised to improve muscle strength on at least two days of the week.
You can find more information on the specific recommendations for different ages and types of activity from the Department of Health| and the World Health Organisation|. Search on their websites for physical activity recommendations.
There is no single exercise that’s best for everyone. Choose an activity you enjoy and that fits in with your life.
If you’re new to being active it’s best to build up gradually, doing a little as often as you can. Slowly, try to do a little more each week – perhaps walking just a little further and a little faster. In time you’ll find you can do more.
Here’s an explanation of how it feels to be active at the different intensities:
Aerobic exercise uses large muscle groups repetitively for a period of time. It involves raising the heart rate so that the heart works harder to pump blood through the body. It’s particularly good for your heart health.
Common aerobic exercises include:
All you need is a pair of comfortable walking shoes. Walking is a weight-bearing exercise (your feet and legs support your body’s weight) and it’s good for strengthening your bones.
These are weight bearing exercises, but they’re high impact and may put stress on your spine and joints. Choose something gentler if you have bone loss. If you’re new to physical activity, gradually build up the amount you do.
These are good for your heart and lungs, as they strengthen your muscles and put very little strain on your joints. These can be comfortable activities if you have bone or joint pain.
Resistance training, also called strength training, involves making your muscles contract harder than usual against some form of resistance. It helps strengthen muscles, bones and joints. It’s a good activity especially if you have or are at risk of bone-thinning problems. Resistance exercises can involve hand weights, machines or elastic bands. You can also use your own body weight, by doing sit-ups or press-ups, for example.
Maintaining muscle strength also helps people stay independent by carrying on with day-to-day activities – getting in and out of chairs/baths, going up and down stairs and going shopping.
Having flexible joints is important as it helps prevent injury. Simple stretching exercises can be a good way to start becoming more active, especially if you’ve been very unwell. Yoga, Tai Chi and Pilates are all good activities for flexibility and use breathing techniques combined with body movements. They help reduce stress as well as improving flexibility.
Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates and Qi Gong all help increase balance and strength. Cycling, dancing and climbing stairs are also good for balance.
The following table has examples of different types of activities and how they can help improve your stamina, strength, flexibility and balance:
Content last reviewed: 1 July 2011
Next planned review: 2013
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