The UK Department of Health has set down minimum recommendations for how much exercise different age groups should aim to do. Don’t be put off if these seem a lot. If you’re just getting started, go slow at first and gradually increase the amount and intensity of activity you do to build up your fitness. Trying to do too much too quickly may mean you lose motivation and stop. Adding just five minutes will help you reach your target and increase your fitness levels.
To get all the benefits of exercise, each week adults should aim to do:
- at least two and a half hours of moderate intensity exercise over a week in bouts of 10 minutes or more
- an hour and 15 minutes of vigorous intensity activity
- an equal mix of moderate and vigorous intensity activity
- at least twice-weekly activities that build up muscle strength, such as lifting weights or exercises using your body weight, (push-ups and sit-ups for example)
Moderate intensity means:
- your breathing is faster
- your heart rate is faster
- you feel warmer
Vigorous intensity means:
- your breathing is much deeper and more rapid
- your heart rate increases quickly
There are plenty of ways to pack activity into your week so you’ll probably reach the target before you know it. Here are some sample exercise routines to achieve them.
Exercise How long? How often? Walking (brisk) 30 minutes 5 times a week Walking (brisk) 15 minutes 2 times a day, 5 days a week Running 25 minutes 3 times a week Skipping 15 minutes 6 times a week Walking...
2 times a week
2 times a week
Cycling (with few hills)...
and swimming (fast)
2 times a week
2 times a week
“I’ve joined a running club that I go to once a week. I was a bit wary at first as I’m a total beginner but they were so welcoming and I’ve really surprised myself with what I’ve achieved. I won’t be doing a marathon any time soon but I’ve signed up to do a 5km race with some friends from the club.”
It’s a good idea to set some goals when you start exercising. Think about what you’re aiming to get out of the effort you’re going to be putting in. Making your goals ‘SMART’ can help you.
- Specific – say exactly what you will do. For example, you’ll go to the gym twice a week before work.
- Measurable – if you can’t measure your goal, you won’t know if you’ve achieved it. If you ride a bike, time how long it takes to cycle a set distance and keep track of how this improves.
- Attainable – your goal needs to be something you can and are willing to do. Although “I’ll run a marathon by my next birthday” is admirable, if you’ve not run before and don’t enjoy it, it’s unlikely to happen. Why not sign up to a 5km in three months’ time instead.
- Realistic – something you can do with the resources you have. Although it might be nice to have a personal trainer, perhaps a group exercise class is more in line with your finances.
- Time-based – give yourself a sensible timeframe in which to meet your goal. An example might be to be able to swim a mile after a month of regular swimming sessions.
Having goals is also great for reminding yourself how much you’ve improved and tracking your progress – think how great you’ll feel if just a few months after you start jogging, you can complete a 5km run.
If the thought of exercise fills you with dread, choose an activity you enjoy. You don’t have to go to the gym to get the health benefits of exercise.
If running puts you off, try an aerobics or dance class instead. Or perhaps yoga or tai chi is more your style? Have a go at a few things until you find some that suit you.
We’ve put together some of our favourites to give you ideas – both moderate and vigorous intensity depending on how energetic you’re feeling.
Moderate intensity Vigorous intensity Take a bike ride with the family. Head to a martial arts class. Go for a brisk walk – make it more interesting by listening to some new music or a podcast while you walk. Go for a run. Go rollerblading – perfect for parks and proms. Swimming, but really go for it – try racing with your kids. Aquarobics is a good activity for everybody as the water supports your weight. Aerobics will get your blood flowing. Volleyball – it’s a great team sport. Hockey – this can be a great social opportunity. Skateboarding – go on a downhill ride! Cycling up hills – to keep going, think of the sense of achievement you’ll have once you reach the top! Gardening – make your outdoor spaces look enticing. Basketball – you could sign up to a league. Head out for a day hiking in the country. Football – another great social sport. Cleaning, such as vacuuming – it all counts! Shovelling or carrying heavy loads – get your jobs done and a good workout at the same time. Go dancing – it doesn’t have to be a formal class, put some music on and dance around the living room. Train for a stand up paddle (SUP) race – the latest watersport that’s fun for all the family. Play rounders in the park. Try trapfit – the new exercise trend that’s come over from the US where you exercise using a trapeze! Take on your friends in doubles tennis. Try piloxing, a combination of Pilates and boxing.
Once you’ve chosen an exercise you enjoy, you need to stay motivated and stick with it. The following may help.
- Put your goal on paper and stick it on the fridge so you have a constant reminder of what you’re aiming to achieve.
- Use mobile phone apps to measure your progress. Structured exercise plans as well as personal trainer apps are freely available. If walking is your thing, download our Ground Miles app and walk your way to health and wellbeing.
- Maybe you find it helps if you have a plan to follow. We have a range of running training programmes for different distances – if you’re just starting out, try our walking programme or ‘walk to run’ 5km plan.
- Bring out your competitive spirit. Enter yourself into a charity run so you have something to aim for, or join a sports league that has regular fixtures.
You’re likely to find it easier to do physical activity if you build it into your everyday life. Try to spend as little time as possible being inactive. You can include daily activities, structured exercise and sport, or a combination of these, into your weekly goal. It all counts. Here’s just a selection of ideas to break down those barriers and get you more active without realising it.
- If you have children and they take up the majority of your time, why not exercise with them? You could go on a family bike ride for example, or go bowling or ice-skating.
- If you have a busy work life, fit exercise around it. Head out early and hit the gym before work or wind down with a swim afterwards. It can be a great way to process the day.
- Walk or cycle to work or your kids to school a couple of days or more a week.
- Instead of watching TV in the evening, walk to and from the cinema to watch a film.
- Make the most of even small opportunities to be active – use the stairs, do manual tasks.
- Walk instead of driving short journeys, or get off the bus one or two stops earlier than usual.
- Build some activities into your weekend – do some DIY or gardening.
- Join an organised bike ride, running club or walking group. Knowing you have a commitment to do something with other people can be a great motivator.
If you’re still thinking you can’t possibly fit activity in to your lifestyle, you might be surprised by what you can achieve. Just see how easy it can be in an average week for a working person who commutes to the office. This example shows you can smash the target, just in everyday life!
Day Activity Time Monday Walk to the station and back;
step out of the office to get some lunch
Tuesday Walk to the station and back;
nip to the dry cleaners after work
Wednesday Walk to the station and back;
go to a yoga class after work
Thursday Walk to the station and back 20 minutes Friday Saturday Vacuum the house 30 minutes Sunday Go for bike ride 60 minutes Total 235 minutes
“I’m a freelancer so make sure I get out of the house at least once a day for a brisk walk with friends who also work from home. It’s valuable contact with others and having a dog that demands walking helps!”
Rachael, freelance editor
A number of health conditions, such as osteoarthritis and back pain, may mean you feel anxious about exercising. But actually it’s usually recommended that you keep active to help treat your symptoms. This might be with strengthening exercises or something more lively that gets your heart rate up. Both of these are thought to be better than bed rest or steering clear of activity.
Walking is very safe but if you have specific concerns, contact your GP about what you can and can’t do. Or if you’ve been referred to another doctor or physiotherapist, they can recommend the activities and exercise that are most suitable for you.
- British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health
01509 226 421
- The 50 things that put the ‘feel great’ in Great Britain. Bupa. www.bupa.com, published 15 April 2015
- Physical activity guidelines for adults (19–64 years) Department of Health. www.gov.uk, published July 2011
- Moderate to vigorous – what is your level of intensity? American Heart Association. www.heart.org, published March 2014
- Examples of moderate and vigorous physical activity. Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. www.hsph.harvard.edu, accessed 11 June 2015
- Measuring physical activity intensity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov, published 4 February 2015
- British Heart Foundation National Centre for Physical Activity and Health
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Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Content Team, July 2015.
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