Physical activity: how much is enough & why it matters


Simply being physically active on a regular basis is one of the most effective ways you can achieve great cardiovascular health.

Your heart will become stronger, your circulation will develop, your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose control will all improve and you will probably feel less stressed.

That's a pretty powerful health package, and it doesn't stop there. You'll also reduce your risk of countless other conditions too including cancer, diabetes, dementia and depression. And you will of course feel better for it too, with higher energy levels, greater strength, better concentration and improved self-confidence.

When it comes to choosing lifestyles, regular exercise really is right up there with the best of them.

How much exercise is enough?

One of the largest and most credible studies in the world exploring the link between physical activity and health1 has shown beyond doubt that regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to avoid a wide range of diseases and generally improve health.

The interesting part about this study however is that just being moderately fit, rather than super fit, brought about the greatest increase in health benefit and disease protection. The icing on the cake is that the level of activity required to achieve this degree of moderate fitness equated to just 30 minutes of brisk walking on most days.

Moderate activities, such as brisk walking, light cycling and swimming, gardening and active housework, provide a huge range of health benefits including effective weight control, improved energy, mood and concentration, reduced blood pressure, improved cholesterol profile and reduced all-round health risk.

Vigorous exercise activities, such as jogging, swimming, cycling and recreational sports, provide all the benefits of moderate activity but have a further benefit on aerobic fitness and sports performance, enhanced weight loss and muscular development - fit, lean and toned!

You should aim for either 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous each week. Feel free to mix it up of course, a bit of both is ideal.

You should also try to work in some muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days each week.

Anything is better than nothing of course, adding any amount of regular exercise on top of your routine daily activity will have a positive effect on your health and wellbeing.

The immediate benefits of regular exercise

While you may want to become more physically active for the longer-term health benefits, it's the immediate improvements in wellbeing that will keep you motivated on a daily basis:

Relax, revitalise and energise: physical activity reduces mental and muscular tension whilst at the same time increasing concentration and energy levels. Everyday tasks, whether it's getting up off the couch or mowing the lawn, all get easier.

De-stress: physical activity provides a complete break and distraction from the anxieties and stresses of the day, leaving you re-charged and ready to start again afresh.

Feel good about yourself: physical activity - and being physically fit - can really enhance your self-esteem, self-confidence and sense of achievement.

"If exercise could be purchased in a pill, it would be the most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation" - Dr. Robert H. Butler MD, Founding Director of the National Institute on Ageing

Reference:

1. The Cooper Center Longitudinal Study (1970 to date): Cooper Centre, Dallas, Texas