Increasing physical activity has the potential to improve the physical and mental health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and the nation as a whole. Public Health England (PHE) wants to see more people being physically active. This professional resource sets out how to achieve this.
Adults in England should aim to take part in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more, according to physical activity guidelines for adults from the UK Chief Medical Officers.
Moderate intensity physical activities, such as brisk walking or cycling, cause adults to get warmer and breathe harder and their hearts to beat faster, but they can still carry on a conversation.
All adults should aim to be active daily and should include muscle strengthening activity, such as exercising with weights, yoga or carrying heavy shopping, on at least 2 days a week. This can help lower the risk of sarcopenia, or loss of muscle mass, which is associated with ageing but also occurs in response to immobility at any age. Individuals at risk of falls should also do balance exercises twice a week.
Loss of muscle can often then lead to a downward spiral in which reduced exercise capacity results in less activity being undertaken, and a worsening of the loss of capacity.
As well as being physically active, all adults are advised to minimise the time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods. Even among individuals who are active at the recommended levels, spending large amounts of time sedentary increases the risk of adverse health outcomes.
Many adults spend in excess of 7 hours per day sedentary, and this typically increases with age.
Everyone should be encouraged to reduce the amount of sedentary time by:
- reducing time spent watching TV, using a computer or playing video games
- taking regular time not sitting during work
- breaking up sedentary time, such as swapping a long bus or car journey for walking part of the way
Declining levels of physical activity
People in the UK are around 20% less active now than in the 1960s. If current trends continue, we will be 35% less active by 2030.
We are the first generation to need to make a conscious decision to build physical activity into our daily lives. Fewer of us have manual jobs. Technology dominates at home and at work, the 2 places where we spend most of our time. Societal changes have designed physical activity out of our lives.
Increasing car use is a major contributing factor to lower levels of physical activity in the UK. In 1961, 69% of households did not own a car or van, but by 2012 this had decreased to 25%.
Figures from the Health Survey for England show that 67% of men and 55% of women aged 16 and over do at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.
Lack of physical activity is costing the UK an estimated £7.4 billion a year, including £0.9 billion to the NHS alone.
Long term conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory disease lead to greater dependency on home, residential and ultimately nursing care. This drain on resources is avoidable, as is the personal strain it puts on families and individuals.
The benefits of physical activity
The first Sports Strategy in 13 years heralds a new approach which shifts the balance of investment, for the first time, to focus more on encouraging inactive and underrepresented groups to become more active. This is where the greatest individual, community and economic gains can be made.
Any physical activity is better than none. Start small and build up gradually. As little as 10 minutes of moderate physical activity at a time provides physical and mental health benefits.
The link between physical inactivity and obesity is well established. With more than half of adults in England currently overweight or obese, everyone can benefit from being more active every day.
It is important that physical activity is not, however, framed as just an option for combating obesity.
Low physical activity is one of the top 10 causes of disease and disability in England.
Persuading inactive people (those doing less than 30 minutes per week) to become more active could prevent one in ten cases of stroke and heart disease in the UK and one in six deaths from any cause. In fact it’s often said that if physical activity was a drug it would be classed as a wonder drug.
Regular physical activity can help to prevent and manage over 20 chronic conditions and diseases, many of which are on the rise and affecting people at an earlier age; 1 in 3 of the working age population have at least 1 long term condition and 1 in 7 have more than one.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has a number of clinical pathways that highlight the role of physical activity in preventing and managing illness.
Read all of the recommendations on Public Health England's website.