Exercise and staying active

Many sections of this booklet refer to exercise as a way to improve your health.

Table 13 describes different types of exercise and provides some examples and Table 14 highlights some of the related health benefits.

For more information talk to your doctor about the type of exercise that could benefit you most. Often this might just be a way to make your life more active.

Table 13: Main types of exercise and related benefits

Examples Comments
Aerobic Walking, jogging, running, cycling, rowing, step machines, dancing, skipping, swimming. Any exercise that makes your heart beat faster and your breathing rate increase is aerobic exercise. Over time, with aerobic exercise, your heart muscles will grow stronger. This also increases blood circulation which helps clear your blood vessels. As you work harder and for longer periods this exercise starts to use the energy stored in body fat.
Resistance Press-ups, pull-ups, using free weights or machines.

Any exercise where you use increased weights (and/or increased repetitions) to make muscles work harder is called resistance exercise. This type of exercise will build up and maintain muscle mass.

Weight bearing Walking, running, jogging etc. Some types of weight lifting. Exercise that puts weight on your bones, helps your bones grow and stay strong. This includes some aerobic exercise like running and some resistance exercie like weight lifting.
Flexibility Stretching, yoga, pilates Exercises improves the range of motion of muscles and joints.

Table 14: impact of exercise on different health conditions

Link to exercise Comments
Diabetes (type-2) Physical activity reduces risk. A more active lifestyle reduces risks of metabolic indicators for developing type-2 diabetes.
Heart disease Physical activity improves aerobic fitness. Improving aerobic fitness reduces risk of heart disease. Aim for 150 mins or more of moderate-intensity activity per week.
Stroke Physical activity reduces risk. Highly-active individuals had a 27% reduced risk of stroke.
Cholesterol and triglycerides Physical activity is associated with lowering levels in the blood. Improved lipids are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Few studies have looked at exercise and LDL/triglycerides directly.
Depression Exercise can be used as a treatment or preventative. Reduces risk of developing depression and can boost self-esteem.
Breast & colorectal cancer Moderate-vigorous physical activity for 30-60 mins daily. Lowers risk of developing some cancers.
Ageing Regular physical activity for over 65s. Lowers rates of all-cause mortality, 30% reduced risk of falls, and better cognitive function.
Bone health Resistance exercise increases bone density (and strength). Moderate-vigorous physical activity performed for 3-5 days a week. 30-60 mins per session increases bone mass density.

WHO guidelines recommend at least 1–5 hours exercise each week depending on the type of exercise (see below).

If you have not exercised for a while you will need to build up your strength and stamina slowly.

Exercise is individual to your goals. Some people want to build up muscle, some want to lose weight and others just want to get fit. Each goal uses different types of exercise.

World Health Organisation (WHO) adult guidelines (age 18–64).

  1. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week – or a combination.
  2. Increasing this time (ie to 300 and 150 minutes respectively) will lead to better health benefits.
  3. Aerobic activity should last for at least 10 minutes duration.
  4. Muscle-strengthening activity should involve major muscle groups on at least two days a week.
  5. The recommendations for children and those over 65 are slightly different but still promote the importance and many benefits of physical activity.

If you have not exercised for a while you will need to build up your strength and stamina slowly.

Exercise is individual to your goals. Some people want to build up muscle, some to others to loose weight and others to just get fit. Each goal uses different types of exercise.

Nutrition and exercise

A balanced diet will give the body all of the nutrients that it needs to repair itself after exercise.  See this link on eating a healthy diet.

Tips to stay active

Your own goals are personal to you. This is not competitive to anyone else.

Some people want to build muscle and others to lose weight. Get advice for the best exercise for your goal.

If you find an exercise that you enjoy you will be more likely to do it regularly. Look out for classes that offer a range of activities and sports. Getting into a routine will help – after a few weeks or months this will feel normal.

Exercising with friends can be more fun, and helps keep you motivated. Or you can see this as time to focus on yourself.

Being more active throughout the day makes a difference. Take the stairs instead of a lift or walk to work for example.

It is important to stretch and warm up before and after most exercise. Start slow and gradually build up your level of activity, particularly if this is new.

Last updated: 1 March 2023.