Our interactive body map of how a lack of physical activity makes you sick may have got you thinking, but it can be difficult to know how to get started if you don’t regularly exercise.
Here we review the best science about how to start an exercise habit, and how to keep it going.
What type of exercise, and how much?
The government tells us we should get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week, and preferably 300 minutes. Moderate physical activity is generally described as exercise at least as intense as brisk walking – things like swimming, household chores and mowing the lawn all count.
For instance, in Nazi Germany, the women’s organisation Frauenschaftsponsored a “Health through Housework” movement which combined household chores with Swedish gymnastics. Picture making the bed standing on one leg and you’ve pretty much got the idea.
You need to listen to Robin Bailey’s advice for all those striving for a “thigh gap”. (Post continues after audio.)
Vigorous physical activities are those that cause you to feel puffed, and include jogging, hiking and shovelling. Vigorous physical activity counts double: just 75-150 minutes per week is enough to make sizeable health gains.
Moderate and vigorous physical activities have important benefits for health by stressing the heart system, and therefore stimulating it to adapt. In addition, they contribute to weight control through burning calories, improve mood through release of endorphins, and benefit metabolic health (warding off diseases such as diabetes and cancer) by altering hormonal, inflammatory and immune responses.
In addition to moderate and vigorous physical activity, the guidelines recommend that physical activity should include muscle strengthening activities at least twice a week. Such activities include lifting weights or heavy chores that involve carrying loads. In particular, strengthening activities have important benefits for bone health.
We used to think of physical activity in terms of leisure-time activities, like sports and fitness activities. However, health scientists now recognise that most forms of physical activity have beneficial effects. Physical activity from daily chores, or walking or cycling to get from place to place, are all helpful and offer realistic ways for people to squeeze more physical activity into their busy lifestyles.
It’s surprising how much difference a little effort can make. Imagine you decide to get off the bus a stop early, and walk the extra 500 metres to work, and then do the same on the way home. That’s an extra kilometre every day, or about 60 minutes of exercise a week.