Weekly Exercise Recommendations
How active should I be? This is a question I frequently get asked in clinic. The updated guidelines for physical activity were published earlier this month (UK Chief Medical Officers; Physical Activity Guidelines, 2019). I have summarised the key points here to guide you towards achieving the governments recommendations for exercise and physical activity.
What is Physical Activity?
Physical activity is basically activities in which you use your muscles, challenge your cardiovascular system and use energy. It does not strictly need to involve going to the gym using machines and lifting weights. It can include walking, running, stairs, heavy housework and playing with your children. Hopefully this makes you feel a little brighter about being active if you are not a big fan of gyms or specific structured exercise.
How Active Should I be?
I have divided this section up into children and adults with more emphasis on adults as this is my target group. However, I think it is important to have an understanding of what our little ones need to do, especially if you are a parent, healthcare professional, teacher or in regular contact with children.
Under 1/not yet mobile: a minimum of 30 minutes combined tummy time across their day
Toddlers: Minimum of 3 hours of physical activity through play etc throughout the day.
3-4 years; Minimum 3 hours per day, 1 hour should be moderate to vigourous.
5-18 years: At leats one hour per day. Minimise sedentary times.
Adults 19-64 year: Aim to carry out some form of strengthening activity twice per week and a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular activity a week or 75 minutes of more vigorous exercise. This can be tailored to your preferences. The recommendations also apply to disabled adults. Physical activity is equally important for this group.
65 years and over: the guidelines are very similar as for adults 19-64 years. The additions include flexibility and balance exercise.
Pregnancy and post pregnancy:
Physical activity is also important in pregnancy. It helps to reduce risk of gestational diabetes, issues with blood pressure, weight gain beyond what is recommended as well as improved mental health. It is therefore recommended to complete 150 minutes of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise together with two sessions of muscle strengthening. However, there is an element of being sensible and listening to health professionals around you as each pregnancy is different.
Physical activity is also safe after pregnancy and there is no evidence to suggest a negative impact on breastfeeding. You can start gentle exercise, such as walking etc, after delivery. Resume more intensive exercise gradually over three months after your 6-8 week check.
The guidelines very much stress that this is really the minimum that we should be looking at and more is essentially better.
The benefits of Cardiovascular exercise
Cardiovascular activity contributes to a healthy heart, body and improves your fitness. It helps to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. Do this at a moderate or vigorous intensity for maximal health benefit. This will feel different for each of us. My moderate my be vigorous for someone else, depending on baseline level. The guidelines suggest to use the ‘talk test’ to see what works for you. Moderate will be when you can talk but not sing and having difficulty talking is vigorous.
The benefits of Strength exercise
Strengthening activities are important throughout life for different reasons: to develop strength and build healthy bones during childhood and young adulthood; to maintain strength in adulthood; and to delay the natural decline in muscle mass and bone density which occurs from around 50 years of age, maintaining function in later life. It can help reducing risk of osteoporosis, musculoskeletal pain and risk for falling.
Overall benefits of Physical Activity
Physical activity reduced risk of a wide arrange of diseases (coronary heart disease, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes, dementia etc.) and contributes to more positive mental health. It can help to reduce falls and fracture risk in the elderly and obesity among all age groups. In children and young adults physical activity also helps to contribute towards cognitive functioning and academic performance.
Why do we need to break up sedentary behaviour?
The guidelines emphasise breaking up sedentary behaviour regularly regardless of age. Being sedentary is a risk factor in itself for for poor health outcomes. There is research suggesting links between sedentary behaviour and cardiovascular disease and cancers. If you are predominantly sedentary the best way to get physically active is to start gentle and gradually build up length and intensity. Even if this is below the recommended guidelines, any increase in activity is going to be beneficial.
The guidelines recognise that it may feel quite daunting to start doing 150 minutes of exercises a week. And if you are new to exercise it may even stop you from engaging in regular exercise as the Goa of 150 minutes may feel too big. Therefore you can break it down into small groups of 10 minutes or less and gradually build it up to multiple times a day. Spread it out over the week and try and do a little everyday and you will gradually work up towards the recommended amount. Things like adding cycling to work, or making the walk to the bus/train/tube a purposeful walk will contribute towards the overall goal.
Risk of Injury
Some activities may carry a risk of injury. Especially if you are deconditioned and go straight into high intensity or load exercise. Therefore I would recommend to take a more gradual approach and build up fitness and strength. Overall the health benefits of activity outweigh the risks.
I hope you enjoyed the read! If you want to read the full guidelines belles follow below link!