Facts about exercise

Facts about exercise

Obesity and inactivity in adults and children is reaching epidemic levels. Children are getting illnesses associated with middle aged adults (e.g. Type 2 Diabetes). Regular physical activity prevents many potential health problems:

  • heart disease
  • high blood pressure
  • osteoporosis (brittle bones)
  • stroke
  • diabetes
  • certain cancers (including breast and colon cancer)
  • stress
  • depression
  • dementia
  • reduced risk of falls

Physical activity is shown to boost mood, concentration, energy, sleep quality, and improve posture and bone health. Research suggests it can lower the risk of early death by up to 30%.


The terms physical activity and exercise are not the same; exercise is considered a subcategory of physical activity that involves planned, often repetitive actions to improve or maintain physical fitness. Physical activity refers to all activities involving the movement of skeletal muscles; this includes walking to work, recreational activities or even completing household chores.

How much is enough?

Physical activity is crucial to balancing energy use, and alongside healthy eating, it is fundamental to weight control.

The amount of activity your body requires will depend on your age, body size and energy balance. There are however general suggestions made as a guide for physical activity:

  • Children under five years should be active for most of the day, and those that are able to walk on their own should be physically active at least 180 minutes (three hours) each day. Babies should be encouraged to grasp for objects and move around in a safe environment.
  • Young people, between 5 and 18 years, should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Ideally the activity should vary between moderate to vigorous intensity, with 3 days out of the week involving exercises to develop strong bones (such as jumping, running or push-ups).
  • Adults aged above 19 years should try to be active daily, and get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. A simple way of making up the 150 minutes is to complete 30 minutes of an activity 5 days a week, however at least 2 or 3 days are week should include strength exercises that work all the major muscles (such as squats, lunges and push-ups).

For most people, the easiest way to increase physical activity is to make it part of everyday life, like using the stairs instead of the lifts at work or walking instead of using the car to get around.

What do we mean by moderate or vigorous activity?

In order to benefit your health, physical activities should have you moving enough to raise your heart rate, breathe faster and feel warmer. This level of effort, where you are still able to speak in sentences, is called moderate intensity activity. Cleaning, gardening, brisk walking, dancing and carrying moderate loads are all good examples of moderate intensity activities.

Vigorous activity requires a greater amount of energy; it causes a rapid rise in both heart rate and breathing, and should leave you slightly breathless when speaking. Examples of vigorous intensity activities include running, competitive sports, aerobics, climbing quickly up hill, fast cycling and swimming.

Studies suggest that one minute of a vigorous activity generally provides the same health benefits as two minutes of moderate activity.