Lifestyle and exercise

Major new exercise guidelines announced

New and important guidelines have been issued today outlining the amount of exercise adults and children need to do to stay healthy.

Newspapers and other media outlets have picked up on the angle that, for the first time, the new guidelines include recommendations for children under the age of five.

However, these new guidelines, issued by the chief medical officer, go much further and should be read and acted on by all adults in England.

They are based on a comprehensive review of the latest scientific evidence regarding physical activty and health.

The new guidelines include the following points:

  • The intensity at which we exercise is key, and light activity such as strolling and housework is unlikely to have much positive impact on the health of most people. For aerobic exercise to be beneficial it must raise your heartbeat and make you sweat.
  • The more exercise you do, the better. Everyone should do a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise but that really is the minimum for health benefits. If you can go beyond 150 minutes, you’ll gain even more health benefits.
  • Sedentary time (time spent sitting down to watch TV, use a computer, read or listen to music) is bad for your health, even for those who are achieving 150 minutes of exercise a week.

The guidelines, which are now much more in line with those used in the US, also include recommendations for muscle-building and bone strengthening activities such as lifting weights and yoga.

Where can I find details on how much activity I should be doing?

The amount of exercise you need to do each week depends on your age.  Use the links below to find out how much exercise you should be doing:

What is the advice for adults?

To stay healthy, adults aged 19-64 should try to be active daily and should do at least:

150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week, and

            muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a 
            week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, 
            back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).  

75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week, and

            muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a 
            week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, 
            back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week (for example two 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of fast walking), and

muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

What are the new guidelines based on?

The new physical activity guidelines drew upon an extensive body of research, including some large-scale evidence reviews conducted by the World Health Organization and in other developed countries. In particular, the guidelines were formulated after consideration of a US Government report looking at the health benefits of physical activity. This report was based on the findings of a comprehensive two-year review examining a large body of relevant research. The new UK guidelines also take into account the results of a similar Canadian evidence review.

The authors of these UK guidelines said that given these recent large-scale reviews it was unnecessary to undertake a full review of the primary literature, but they agreed upon a set of key primary evidence sources that would underpin the new UK guidelines. These sources were:

  • the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, 2008 from the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee formed by the US Department of Health and Human Services
  • scientific reviews undertaken as part of the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines review process
  • the review papers undertaken as part of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES) consensus process
  • where needed, individual high-quality review papers or individual study papers reporting on relevant issues not covered in the US, Canadian or BASES review process

In addition, the evidence and draft guidelines were examined by an expert panel of leading international and national experts in the field of physical activity. The guidelines in development then went through various stages of presentation, consultation and feedback. The focus was on developing recommendations for new physical activity guidelines for the prevention of disease.

How many of us are achieving recommended activity levels?

At present, only a minority of people in the UK get enough exercise. Based on the long-standing guidelines of achieving 30 minutes activity on at least five days, the following proportions of people meet their target activity levels:

  • England: 40% of men and 28% of women
  • Northern Ireland: 33% of men and 28% of women
  • Wales: 36% of men and 23% of women
  • Scotland: 43% of men and 32% of women

Furthermore, according to self-reported measures of sedentary behaviour, approximately two-thirds of adults spend more than two hours a day watching TV and using the computer, and significant proportions of adults report spending between three to four hours sitting down during their leisure time. 

The proportion of children meeting current targets are:

  • England: 32% of boys aged 2-15 and 24% of girls
  • Northern Ireland: 19% of boys aged 12-16 and 10% of girls
  • Wales: 63% of boys aged 4-15 and 45% of girls
  • Scotland: 76% of boys aged 2-15 and 67% of girls

For those aged under five, the report says that UK data is only available for three- and four-year-olds, and shows that the mean total time spent being physically active is 120-150 minutes a day, with 10-11 mean hours spent being sedentary.

For ideas on how to be more active and on what activities count, see our Live Well fitness and exercise section.

NHS Attribution