Physical activity is any bodily movement where you expend energy, such as walking, dancing, gardening, running, swimming, cycling, household chores, games, sports or planned exercise. Getting enough physical activity is an essential element of your personal wellbeing.
It is widely recommended that adults aged 18-64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination.
Rating and Self-Assessment
If you ranked your coping as GOOD then this section should help you maintain that. If you rated it as FAIR or POOR then this section should help you improve the situation.
Physical activity stimulates the release of positive endorphins, helping lift your mood and reducing the likelihood of developing, or worsening existing anxiety and depression. It will have a positive impact on your sleep, and on your diet as it reduces cravings for high fat and sugary foods. Enforced inactivity is known to increase levels of depression, which is particularly relevant in the restricted COVID-19 environment.
Failing to manage your physical activity may result in the following negative impacts on you or your wellbeing in the short term. There are long term impacts in all these areas, but these are beyond the scope of this document.
What You Can Do
There are simple actions that, if used regularly, will improve your physical fitness and can improve your mood and that of those around you, as well as enhancing your resilience to stress.
- Set a regular time each day to take some exercise.
- Find a form of activity you enjoy – it is the most effective. If you enjoy it, you are more likely to do it.
- Involve others (e.g. family members, friends). Apart from being an opportunity for social connection, if you are held accountable for your actions, you are more likely to follow through with your intentions. Involving others also affords you the opportunity to support someone struggling and lacking in motivation, and who might benefit from your support and encouragement.
- Take exercise outdoors if possible.
- If you are restricted in your movements outside your home, consider the use of online resources.
If you see these signs in someone close to you, or you become aware that someone else is suffering, offer them access to this page of information.
Physical activity guidelines for adults aged 19 to 64
Adults should do some type of physical activity every day. Any type of activity is good for you. The more you do the better.
- aim to be physically active every day. Any activity is better than none, and more is better still.
- do strengthening activities that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) on at least 2 days a week.
- do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week.
- reduce time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity.
You can also achieve your weekly activity target with:
- several short sessions of very vigorous intensity activity
- a mix of moderate, vigorous and very vigorous intensity activity
Make sure the type and intensity of your activity is appropriate for your level of fitness.
You can do your weekly target of physical activity on a single day or over 2 or more days. Whatever suits you.
These guidelines are also suitable for disabled adults, pregnant women and new mothers. When you start exercising after pregnancy, make sure your physical activity choices reflect your activity levels before pregnancy. You should include strength training. After your 6 to 8 week postnatal check, you can start to do more intense activities if you feel you're able to. Vigorous activity is not recommended if you were inactive before pregnancy.
What counts as moderate aerobic activity?
Moderate activity will raise your heart rate, and make you breathe faster and feel warmer. One way to tell if you're working at a moderate intensity level is if you can still talk, but not sing.
Examples of moderate intensity activities:
- brisk walking
- water aerobics
- riding a bike
- doubles tennis
- pushing a lawn mower
Try the aerobic workout videos in the NHS Fitness Studio.
What counts as vigorous activity?
Vigorous intensity activity makes you breathe hard and fast. If you're working at this level, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath.
In general, 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity can give similar health benefits to 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity.
Most moderate activities can become vigorous if you increase your effort.
Examples of vigorous activities:
- jogging or running
- swimming fast
- riding a bike fast or on hills
- walking up the stairs
- sports, like football, rugby, netball and hockey
- skipping rope
- martial arts
Try the aerobic workout videos in the NHS Fitness Studio.
For a moderate to vigorous workout, try Couch to 5K, a 9-week running plan for beginners.
What counts as very vigorous activity?
Very vigorous activities are exercises performed in short bursts of maximum effort broken up with rest.
This type of exercise is also known as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
Examples of very vigorous activities:
- lifting heavy weights
- circuit training
- sprinting up hills
- interval running
- running up stairs
- spinning classes
What activities strengthen muscles?
To get health benefits from strength exercises, you should do them to the point where you need a short rest before repeating the activity.
There are many ways you can strengthen your muscles, whether you're at home or in a gym.
Examples of muscle-strengthening activities:
- carrying heavy shopping bags
- tai chi
- lifting weights
- working with resistance bands
- doing exercises that use your own body weight, such as push-ups and sit-ups
- heavy gardening, such as digging and shovelling
- wheeling a wheelchair
- lifting and carrying children
- The Body Coach - online exercise routines for people of all fitness levels, and since the Covid-19 crisis, has even produced a series of daily workouts for kids, which are perfect if your children are struggling with cabin fever.
- Brain-Changing' benefits of exercise - A TED talk by neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki. Get inspired to go to the gym as Suzuki discusses the science of how working out boosts your mood and memory -- and protects your brain against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
- Strength workout videos in the NHS Fitness Studio
- Strength and Flex, a 5-week exercise plan for beginners, to improve your strength and flexibility
You can do activities that strengthen your muscles on the same or different days as your aerobic activity – whatever's best for you.
Muscle-strengthening exercises are not always an aerobic activity, so you'll need to do them in addition to your 150 minutes of aerobic activity.