Lifestyle and exercise

10-minute walk a day app to tackle 'inactivity epidemic'

"Health bosses say 45 per cent of over-16s are so sedentary they do not manage the health-boosting ten-minute walk," the Daily Mail reports.

The headline comes after data compiled by Public Health England (the government body tasked with improving the nation's health) found that more than 6.3 million adults aged 40 to 60 failed to achieve just 10 minutes of continuous brisk walking per month.

This is of concern as physical inactivity directly contributes to one in six deaths in the UK.

Due to this, as part of their ongoing One You campaign, Public Health England (PHE) has launched an app called Active 10, designed to encourage at least 10 minutes brisk walking a day.

While this is below the current minimum guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, 10 minutes per day can still bring health benefits, and may serve as "baby steps" along a road that leads to more exercise and better health.

Read more advice about taking up walking as a hobby and exercise.

What is the basis for the news reports?

PHE has released evidence relating to physical activity, reinforcing the advice to do 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. This level of activity can improve both physical and mental health as well as reduce the risk of long-term conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

Health benefits from exercise tend to increase in a dose-response relationship, meaning the more exercise, the more benefits. PHE has provided evidence that a (reduced) health benefit can still be achieved by engaging in a minimum of 10 minutes moderate exercise per day, for example by going for a brisk walk.

The report is based on the premise that there are still a huge number of adults who are physically inactive and 150 minutes a week might seem unachievable.

Encouraging just 10 minutes of brisk walking a day, whereby heart rate is increased, can be a step in the right direction and still result in some health benefits compared to doing nothing at all.

PHE has launched an app called Active 10 to help achieve this goal, by setting targets, automatically seeing achievements and tracking progress over time.

Why is mid-life being targeted and what are the benefits of walking?

Adults in mid-life (aged 40 to 60) are being targeted in particular, as increasing activity in this age group has a range of potential benefits, including:

  • developing positive habits as physical activity begins to decline due to ageing
  • preventing and helping to manage a range of health conditions at a period of high risk
  • for those who are parents – influencing their children's activity levels

Walking is an activity that is both accessible and acceptable and has the potential to increase physical activity in adults. For adults aged 40-60 in the UK, walking is the most common of all physical activities, with 79% of all adults spending some time walking every month.

There are many benefits of brisk walking, including improved fitness, finding it easier to perform everyday physical activities, improvements in mood, improvements in quality of life, a healthier weight and an overall 15% reduction in risk of early death.

An individual can tell if they are briskly walking or engaging in other moderate activity as they will feel more breathless, warmer and have an increased heart rate.

PHE suggests walking could have a particularly important impact in those aged 40-60 who are also of a lower socioeconomic group. It estimates that if one in 10 in this group took up walking 10 minutes a day, 251 deaths per year could be prevented and a saving of £310m per year made in terms of preventable health costs.

However, over the past few decades, the amount of brisk walking has declined as has the length of time people spend walking. There is a need to encourage people who are walking to walk at a brisk pace, to increase how regularly people walk and to encourage those who do not walk to develop a walking habit.

How does this evidence affect you?

Current recommendations for physical activity for adults include engaging in both aerobic and strength exercises. You should still aim for the recommended minimum amount of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week such as brisk walking or cycling and strength exercises on two or more days per week working all major muscles. Alternatively, a minimum of 75 minutes of vigorous exercise such as running or singles tennis, or a mixture of moderate and vigorous exercise, plus strength exercises twice a week is recommended.

However, if you feel this advice might be unachievable to start with, aiming for 10 minutes moderate exercise a day, such as a brisk walk, is a good start.

You can download the app to help you increase your physical activity levels and improve your health.

NHS Attribution