Physical activity

Any amount of physical activity is better than doing none at all. If you are already physically active, increasing the amount you do can also benefit your health.

Being physically active

Being physically active can help to:

  • improve your physical health
  • boost your mental health
  • manage stress

Physical activity has also been shown to reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as:

Together with healthy eating and drinking, physical activity is one of the best ways to manage your weight.

Before increasing your levels of physical activity

You should check with your doctor if you:

  • haven’t done any activity for a long time
  • are living with a health condition or disability

They’ll be able to advise you on the best way to approach increasing your level of physical activity.

Physical activity guidelines for adults

Adults should aim to be active every day and do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity every week. You can split this into 30 minutes of activity most days each week.

If you prefer, you can do 75 minutes of vigorous activity every week. The activity should last at least 10 minutes each time.

Adults should limit the time they spend sitting or lying down when not sleeping.

Moderate intensity activity for adults

If you do moderate intensity activity, you’ll notice:

  • your heart beats faster
  • you feel warmer
  • you’re slightly out of breath but able to have a conversation

Vigorous activity for adults

If you do vigorous activity, you’ll notice:

  • your heart beats very quickly
  • your breathing becomes much faster and deeper
  • you become breathless
  • you sweat

You should also do exercises to improve muscle strength at least two days a week that work all the main muscles in your:

  • legs
  • hips
  • back
  • stomach
  • chest
  • shoulders
  • arms

Physical activity for older adults

It's never too late to enjoy the benefits of physical activity. Being active plays an important part in staying healthy and keeping your independence as you get older.

The health benefits of physical activity outweigh the risks. However, contact your doctor if you are worried about increasing your physical activity levels.

Keeping active helps you to:

  • age well and enjoy life
  • stay Independent
  • have a healthy heart
  • reduce falls
  • keep up with children you know
  • meet people and share the company of others
  • feel happier and keep your brain sharp
  • age better

Older adults should aim to be active every day and do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity every week. You can split this into 30 minutes of activity most days each week.

If you prefer, you can do 75 minutes of vigorous activity every week. The activity should last at least 10 minutes each time.

Adults should limit the time they spend sitting or lying down when not sleeping.

For information on moderate and vigorous intensity exercise see the section above.

Physical activity guidelines for children

Being physically active is really important for children as it:

  • builds confidence and social skills
  • develops co-ordination
  • improves concentration and learning
  • strengthens muscles and bones
  • improves health and fitness
  • maintains healthy weight
  • improves sleep
  • makes you feel good

From age five and over, children need to do moderate to vigorous intensity activities at least 60 minutes and up to several hours every day. They don’t need to do one activity for an hour. They can do separate 10-minute sessions during the day.

Moderate intensity activity for children

Walking to school is an example of moderate intensity activity. If your child walks to school:

  • their heart should beat faster
  • they feel warmer
  • they become slightly breathless

Vigorous activity for children

When your child does vigorous activity, such as running, skipping or playing football:

  • their heart beats quickly
  • they breathe deeply
  • they become breathless and sweaty

Children need to do activities to build strong muscles and strong bones. To improve muscle-strength, they should do push-ups or rope climbing on three days a week. For strong bones, they need to jump, run and skip.

Children should limit the time they spend sitting or lying down when not sleeping.

Being active every day

Physical activity shouldn’t be painful. Be aware of how your body feels. To increase your physical activity:

  • build up your activity gradually aiming for at least 10 minute sessions
  • do activities you enjoy and can fit regularly into your life
  • include physical activity in your daily routine, for example, climb the stairs instead of using the lift or - get off the bus a stop earlier
  • stretch your muscles before and after vigorous exercise
  • try different activities before deciding what you prefer
  • exercise with friends or a partner

Different activities you can try

There are loads of ways to be active, many of them perfect for anyone who’s not been physically active for a while. You don’t have to join the gym to take part.

Walking

Walking is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to introduce more activity into your daily life. The walk should be brisk, which means that you are able to chat as you walk but not sing! At that pace, you are actually doing moderate intensity activity so your heart beats faster, you feel warmer and slightly out of breath.

Counting your daily steps

The average person walks about three or four thousand steps every day. If you aim to increase your steps to 10,000 you will start to feel big health benefits.

Walking for Health groups

Walking in a group is a great way to start walking, make new friends and stay motivated. There are Walking for Health groups in each Trust area.

These groups are led by trained volunteers and are aimed at people who do little or no physical activity but would like to become more active.

Cycling

Cycling is growing in popularity all the time. Not only is it a brilliant way to get out and about and explore your local area or head further afield, it’s also a fantastic way to get fit. If you cycle at moderate speed for 15 minutes, this burns the same calories as doing medium intensity aerobic activity. To improve your health, you need to cycle for 30 minutes most days every week. You can do this as:

  • two 15-minute rides
  • three 10-minute rides

Some employers in Northern Ireland run the Cycle to Work scheme for staff.

If you want to cycle you should:

  • wear a helmet that fits you
  • know how to ride a bicycle
  • understand the Highway Code

 

Swimming

Swimming is one of the most enjoyable ways to get more active and is really good for your sense of wellbeing too.

If you swim regularly, this helps:

  • build endurance and muscle strength
  • keep your heart healthy
  • tone your arms, shoulders and legs

Swimming is good exercise for adults with arthritis as it causes very little joint strain. If you can’t swim, ask about beginners’ lessons in your local swimming pool. Some council-owned leisure centres have swimming pools.

Gardening

Gardening can help relieve stress and get you active. You can get a full body work out by:

  • digging
  • planting
  • mowing
  • weeding

If you don’t have a garden, you could volunteer to do gardening.

Dancing

Dancing tones muscles and is a great form of physical activity. It’s also a good way to socialise. You could try ballroom, salsa, Zumba or other dancing to suit your taste and ability.

Sports

Most sports provide physical activity and social interaction. There are many leisure and activity centres offering different sports including:

  • football
  • golf
  • tennis
  • badminton
  • squash
  • basketball
  • bowls

 

Outdoor activities

Visit a local park or outdoor sports centre to do:

  • kayaking
  • canoeing
  • mountain climbing

There are also hiking trails where you can enjoy exercise and sightseeing at the same time.

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