Modern lifestyles are becoming increasingly sedentary and it’s no surprise that prevalence of lifestyle associated chronic disease is on the rise.  But despite the barriers to achieving a healthy lifestyle, getting in sufficient exercise isn’t as difficult as you may think.  The benefits are well worth the effort too.

Exercise actually gives us energy.  Think about how you feel after sitting around for hours, versus how you feel when you’re up moving around. We tend to simply feel better when we’re active.  Not only this, a vast and growing evidence base consistently demonstrates exercise as associated with reduction in risk of a number of chronic medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.  None of these conditions are necessarily inevitable  – there are so many steps in your life right now to significantly reduce your long term risk of future diagnosis. 

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How much exercise do I need?

The current UK recommendations are 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on at least 5 days per week.  This equates to 150 minutes weekly.  For those who are short on time, 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity weekly is a potential alternative, depending on your underlying health.  Bursts of 10 minutes count too.  As always, it’s important to seek medical advice first if you have an underlying medical condition that may be affected by a sudden change in your activity levels.

Muscle strengthening exercises are also recommended in addition to aerobic exercise, on two days or more per week.  These include activities such as weights, resistance bands, and a number of organised sports.  Even activities such as gardening count.  Take a look at the table below for some examples:

Moderate IntensityVigorous IntensityMuscle Strengthening
Brisk walkingJogging / runningMuscle Strengthening
SwimmingFast swimmingLifting weights
water aerobicsSkippingResistance bands
HikingFitness classHeavy gardening: Digging / shovelling / pushing wheelbarrow
Cycling on level groundCycling fast / on hilly terrainYoga / pilates
Pushing a lawn mowerOrganised sportsExercises that use your own body weight (eg push ups)

You don’t have to spend countless hours at the gym to reap significant benefits from exercise. You could start with something as simple as a 20 minute walk.  Look at ways you can add more activity into your day – a short walk at lunchtime, another walk after work perhaps.  If sticking to a new exercise regimen it is something you struggle with, find a friend or colleague that has similar goals and work out something you can do together to help keep each other accountable.  The key is to find something you enjoy doing; that way you’re more likely to stick to it long term.

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As a rule, with any new routine, it’s best to start gently and build up gradually.  Slow adaptations over time will get better long term results that sudden drastic changes that become hard to maintain.  Don’t worry if you have taken a long break from exercising, or even if exercise is something you’ve never even considered.  It’s never too late to make a change.  Don’t feel you need to conquer all in one go either – set small goals and do a little each day.  Just start where you are right now and build on it gradually. Most importantly – keep going!

Author Bio: Dr Rebecca Healey

Dr Rebecca Healey

Rebecca is a doctor and nutritionist based in North West England. She supports people with chronic conditions using integrative medicine approaches and regularly writes on topics related to nutrition and lifestyle medicine.