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The benefits of exercise

‘One You’ states how being active has lots of benefits for your body, such as lowering your risk of developing serious health problems such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It can also help keep your heart healthy, muscles, bones and joints strong and can help improve your balance.

NHS choices states how research into exercise and its benefits have shown that physical activity can boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing your risk of stress, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

How much exercise should you be doing?

The weekly physical activity guideline for adults (aged 19-64) is 150 minutes of weekly physical activity. The easiest way to reach this recommendation is by doing 30 minutes on 5 days a week and to try to break up long periods of sitting which can be detrimental to your health.

The type of exercise you do can be varied as long as it meets the recommended amount.

One way is to complete the recommendation is:

150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (opens in a new tab) such as cycling or fast walking every week, and completing strength exercises (opens in a new tab) on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

However if that does not suit you and your lifestyle you could:

complete 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (opens in a new tab), such as running or a game of singles tennis every week, and complete two or more days of strength exercises.

If you would prefer to mix up the type of aerobic activity you do you could:

complete a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week. For example, two 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of fast walking equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, plus 2  or more days of strength exercises.

A good way of working out your activity is by following the rule that one minute of vigorous activity provides the same health benefits as two minutes of moderate activity.

For more information, see the NHS website's guidelines of physical activity (opens in a new tab).

What is moderate aerobic activity?

Moderate intensity aerobic exercise is where you’re working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break into a sweat. You’re working at a moderate intensity if you’re able to talk but unable to sing the words to a song.

Examples of activities that require moderate effort for most people include:

Try the aerobic workout videos (opens in a new tab) in the NHS Fitness Studio.

What is vigorous activity?

Vigorous intensity aerobic exercise is where you’re breathing hard and fast and your heart rate has increased significantly. If you’re working at this level, you won’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

There is good evidence that vigorous activity can bring health benefits over and above that of moderate activity. In general, 75 minutes of vigorous activity can give similar health benefits to 150 minutes of moderate activity.

Examples of activities that require vigorous effort for most people include:

For a moderate to vigorous workout, try Couch to 5K, a nine-week running plan for beginners (opens in a new tab).

How to get started

We understand that staying active isn’t easy especially when other responsibilities such as work and family take up a lot of your time. Here are some ideas on how you can get started.

  1. Stay active by getting involved in sports groups and challenges - Why not set up your own challenge and invite your colleges and friends to join you?
  2. Make it fun - ‘One You’ suggest the best way to keep fit is to find a way of being active that you enjoy as you will be more likely to persevere.
  3. Find simple and easy ways to be more active each day - Start with reducing the amount of time you spend sitting down- get up, stretch your legs more often and do more steps each day.
  4. Get strong - Building your strength is another important aspect of physical exercise that helps keep your muscles, bones and joints strong.

Walking to improve your wellbeing at work

Do you work in an office? Are you stuck inside your building for your whole shift? Why not try walking meetings to mix things up? This TED talk by Nilofer Merchant (opens in a new tab) shows how beneficial they can be, both for wellbeing and getting the most out of your meetings.

We have taken this information and set up or own walking meetings at Occupational Health and Wellbeing and they have been a success in the lovely weather.

You could also try led walks on your lunch break. Walks are currently being led by the charity Sustrans (opens in a new tab) across Cambridge.

Ready, set, swim!

Swimming is a brilliant way to get moving and stay fit. Here are a few of the benefits:

  • Swimming is suitable for ages and abilities.
  • Swimming is a full body workout. 30 minutes in a pool is worth 45 minutes of the same activity on land!
  • Swimming is one of the most effective ways to burn calories. A gentle swim can burn over 200 calories in 30 minutes.
  • Water supports up to 90 per cent of the body’s weight. If you have a long term injury or illness, swimming is a brilliant way to stay active.
  • Swimming regularly can lower stress levels, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve sleeping patterns.
  • Swimming 30 minutes a week can help lower chances of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Find out more about swimming on the Swimming.org website (opens in a new tab).

Fit & Me explain 10 brilliant health benefits of swimming (opens in a new tab) that will have you jumping in the pool.

Not able to swim or would like to improve your swimming technique? The Frank Lee Centre offers adult swimming lessons, see their timetable here (opens in a new tab).

Yoga and other led fitness classes

Led classes are a great way to get fit as well as improving your overall wellbeing both physically and mentally.

But you do not have to attend a class to do yoga. Why not try the NHS yoga workout videos in the NHS Choices Fitness Studio (opens in a new tab).

What are the health benefits of yoga?

Dozens of scientific trials have been published on yoga. While there’s always need for further validated studies on its health benefits, most studies suggest yoga is a safe and effective way to increase physical activity, especially strength, flexibility and balance. With evidence suggesting that regular yoga practice is beneficial for people with high blood pressure, heart disease, aches and pains – including lower back pain – depression and stress.

To find out more benefits of Yoga see: 11 Benefits Of Yoga That Will Have You Wondering Why You Never Tried It Before (opens in a new tab) by Fit & Me.

Does yoga contribute towards my 150 minutes of activity?

Although most forms of yoga are not strenuous enough to count towards your 150 minutes of moderate activity (opens in a new tab),  yoga does count as a strengthening exercise, doing at least two sessions a week will help you meet the guidelines on muscle-strengthening activities (opens in a new tab).  Activities such as yoga and tai chi are also highly recommended to older adults with a risk of falls (opens in a new tab) to help improve balance and co-ordination.

Here is a guide to yoga by NHS Choices (opens in a new tab) if you wish to find out more.