How can I be more active?

  • Making small changes to your daily routine and creating new habits can help you to get more active and stay active.
     
  • What counts as being active may surprise you – you can be active at home, at work, and when travelling.
     
  • Even if you’ve been inactive for years, any amount of physical activity is good for you. Being active will benefit your body and mind.

What exercise types and activities can I do?

 

 

Moderate activity is anything that gets you a bit warmer, slightly out of breath, and your heart beating faster. This could be brisk walking, riding a bike or pushing a lawn mower. 

Vigorous activity is anything that makes you breathe hard and fast, and makes it difficult to continue a conversation. This includes running, playing sport, swimming or climbing stairs. Upping your effort can turn most moderate activities into vigorous activity.  

Muscle-strengthening activities work the major muscle groups. This includes lifting weights, yoga, carrying heavy shopping or wheeling a wheelchair. 

 

How much activity should I aim for?

You should aim to be active every day to get the best physical and mental health benefits from exercise.  

Any amount of physical activity is good for you, and is better than none. But the more you can do, the better! Even 10 minutes at a time can add up throughout the week, and you can build this up over time. You may find that once you start exercising you'll feel the benefits and want to do more! 

The government recommends that adults aged 19-64 work towards: 

  • Being physically active every day 

  • Doing 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate activity each week, or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity each week  

  • Doing strengthening activities twice a week, to keep muscles, bones and joints strong 

  • Spending less time sitting or lying down (being sedentary). Try to break up long periods of inactivity where possible 

You can find guidance on physical activity for adults over the age of 65, adults who use wheelchairs, guidance during and after pregnancy, and guidelines for children, on the NHS website.  

Remember, even small amounts of activity are better than none. It’s fine to build up to the government recommendation over time. 

 

How to make being active part of your everyday life 

You don’t have to join a gym to be active – anything that gets you a bit warmer, slightly out of breath and your heart beating fast counts! Here are some ideas: 

 

Being active at home

There are lots of ways you can be active at home. And you may find you already do lots of these things without realising: 

  • Playing family games, like frisbee or kicking a ball around, which are a great alternative to watching TV 

  • Doing household chores like hoovering, cleaning, washing the car or DIY 

  • Walking the dog or walking to the shop for groceries or a newspaper 

  • Dancing to the radio 

  • Gardening e.g. digging with a spade or fork, carrying pots or mowing the lawn 

  • Online classes – from strength workouts to belly dancing, there are lots of free exercise videos on the NHS website you can try  
     

Being active while working

Some people spend a lot of time on their feet at work, including some healthcare, construction and retail workers. That’s a great start, as this can count towards being physically active. 

But some people don’t move much during the working day. Particularly those who work at a computer or drive a lot. Even if you do regular exercise, it’s important to break up periods of inactivity and sit less if you can. You could try: 

  • Taking phone calls standing up or on the move if you can 

  • Walking meetings  

  • Asking for a standing desk if available and right for you 

  • Taking the stairs if you can, instead of a lift 

  • Going for a walk, or doing an activity, on your break 

  • Getting active from your chair or wheelchair – the NHS has information on exercising whilst sitting 
     

Being active when travelling

Think about small changes you can make to your commute or school run to increase your daily activity – it all adds up. Choose one or two changes you can stick to as part of your everyday routine. Try one of these to get you started: 

  • Getting off your train or bus a stop early 

  • Taking the stairs if you can 

  • Cycling or walking for all or part of your journey 

  • Using 'park and stride’ options where available 
     

Being active as a hobby or in your spare time

Being active isn’t just great for your health. It can be a good way to socialise and make friends, improve your confidence and learn new skills. Here are some ideas: 

  • Give a new sport a go like netball, football or cricket – you could join a local club or head to the park with friends or colleagues 

  • Use walking, cycling and running as a way to visit new places 

  • Go swimming or try something different like water aerobics 

  • Gymnastics classes or dance lessons can be a great way to meet new people while exercising 

  • Try out yoga, thai chi or pilates – these are good for building strength and balance, and there are plenty of videos for beginners available online 

  • Simply suggest a walk to catch up with friends 

  • Find accessible sports and activities in your area (external link) 

 

No matter your age, health or how busy you are there are lots of ways to be more active

It can be harder for some people to be more active, with less options or opportunities to make being active part of their everyday life. This may be because of things like work restraints, family or caring responsibilities, or a health condition.  

There is support available that may help you to be more active: 

  • Talk to a doctor or nurse. You can discuss your options for getting active, as well as if there’s anything you should avoid. 

  • Build up activity over time. You might start with lower impact activities like swimming or tai chi. Split up your activities throughout the day or week to make it more manageable. 

  • Try out different options. Find an activity you enjoy. If you are joining a new class, speak to the instructor beforehand about any support you might need. 

  • Find out about inclusive gyms (external link) and other options for getting active with a long-term health condition or disability (external link).  

 

How to stay motivated and keep active

  • Make small swaps that build activity into your daily routine. It’s more likely to become a habit if you’re doing it in the same place at the same time, like when you go to work or to the shop or when you first wake up.   

  • Set a goal and track your progress. Keeping track of how you’re getting on can help you stay motivated to keep up healthy changes. Use a fitness tracker, step counter or apps on your phone to see if you’re reaching your goals. Some devices can even remind you to move more if you’ve been still for a while.  

  • Buddy up with friends or family. Discover new ways to spend time and be active with friends and family, and you can keep each other motivated! 

  • Remind yourself why you wanted to be more active. Write it down or set a reminder on your phone about why being active is important to you. Read more about the benefits of being active

  • Mix it up. You don’t have to stick to just one type of activity. You may find it keeps you more motivated if you do a variety of activities. You can change it up and do what suits you that day.  

  • Be realistic and stick with it. It can be difficult to make lots of changes to your routine all at once. Try starting with one or two small changes that get you moving more until you feel ready to add in more. 

 

World Cancer Research Fund. Physical Activity and the Risk of Cancer. World Cancer Research Fund International; 2018. https://www.wcrf.org/sites/default/files/Physical-activity.pdf

NHS UK. Benefits of exercise. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/exercise-health-benefits/  

Kyu HH, Bachman VF, Alexander LT, et al. Physical activity and risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and ischemic stroke events: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. Bmj. 2016:i3857. doi:10.1136/bmj.i385

Department of Health and Social care. Physical activity guidelines: UK Chief Medical Officers' report: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/physical-activity-guidelines-uk-chief-medical-officers-report

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