Exercise benefits

Recommendations for active living throughout the lifecourse

For general health benefits, adults should achieve a total of at least 30 minutes a day of at least moderate intensity physical activity on 5 or more days of the week.

The recommendations for adults are also appropriate for older adults. Older people should take particular care to keep moving and retain their mobility through daily activity. Additionally, specific activities that promote improved strength, co-ordination and balance are particularly beneficial for older people.

The recommended levels of activity can be achieved either by doing all the daily activity in one session, or through several shorter bouts of activity of 10 minutes or more. The activity can be lifestyle activity* or structured exercise or sport, or a combination of these.

*Lifestyle activity means activities that are performed as part of everyday life, such as climbing stairs or brisk walking.

Physical activity can help all of us to lead healthier and even happier lives, irrespective of age. Even relatively small increases in physical activity are associated with some protection against chronic disease and improved quality of life.

The health benefits of physical activity are significant and well recognised.


Regular physical activity of moderate intensity, such as brisk walking, can bring about major health benefits. Increasing levels of physical activity would contribute to achieving reductions in coronary heart disease and obesity, hypertension, depression and anxiety.

People who are physically active reduce their risk of developing major chronic diseases – such as coronary heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes – by up to 50%, and the risk of premature death by about 20–30%.

Physical activity:

  •  is associated with a reduction in the overall risk of cancer, has a clear protective effect on colon cancer and is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer in women after the menopause;
  • reduces the risk of diabetes – physically active people have a 33–50% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with inactive people, with a particularly strong preventive effect for those at high risk of developing diabetes;
  •  is important for helping people to maintain weight loss over several months or years. (Those who include physical activity as part of their weight loss plan have a better chance of long-term success. Physical activity brings important reductions in risk of mortality and morbidity for those who are already overweight or obese);
  •  can help protect against osteoporosis and have beneficial effects in those with osteoarthritis and low back pain;
  • in childhood has a range of benefits, including healthy growth and development, maintenance of energy balance, psychological well-being and social interaction; and
  •  is associated with reduced risk of depression and dementia in later life, is effective in the treatment of clinical depression and can be as successful as psychotherapy or medication, particularly in the longer term. More generally, physical activity helps people feel better and feel better about themselves, as well as helping to reduce physiological reactions to stress.


The benefits, though, can go well beyond our own health and well-being. With higher transport costs and concerns about global warming, more cycling and walking as part of daily life can save money and help the environment. Fewer car journeys can reduce traffic, congestion and pollution, feeding back into the health of communities.


Physical activity also offers us opportunities for more social interaction – whether it is by joining a walking group, being part of a team engaging in sport or simply leaving the car at home for short, local trips.


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