Healthy weight advice

The benefits of staying active

Physical activity is key to a long and healthy life. Learn about the benefits of exercise and how long you should exercise for.

Why is exercise important?

Staying physically active is key to a long, healthy life. Regardless of your age, it’s important for both your body and your mind.

Regular exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer by 30%.1 It also helps look after both your physical and mental health. Exercise has also been proven to improve your learning and judgment.2

You can exercise at any age, there is no limit, but there are different recommended minimum amounts of time for each age group. When exercising, your heart rate needs to be increased and you need to feel warm for it to be benefitting your health.2

If you struggle to get active, it might help to try different activities to find something you enjoy. Don’t compare yourself to other people, we are all different so if you don’t enjoy what your friends or colleagues do, that’s fine. It takes time and patience to find an exercise you can enjoy.3

How can exercise benefit my physical health?

When you get enough exercise in a week, it can significantly improve your physical health. Even light activity has health benefits.4,5

Some of the main benefits of regularly exercising includes improving:

  • Your blood pressure if you have a high blood pressure
  • Your risk of cancer
  • The risk of heart disease or heart attacks
  • The risk of dementia and strokes
  • The risk of osteoarthritis (inflammation in the joints)
  • Your balance and coordination, especially as you age
  • Your life expectancy
  • Your risk of getting type 2 diabetes.4,5,6

Without regular physical activity, you can increase your risk of developing health problems. Being sedentary or inactive most of time can lead to poor blood pressure and blood sugar control.

It can be difficult to add exercise into your routine especially if you have an office job or are not very mobile. But there are many ways that you can stay active. Try and find activities and times of the day that suit you so that you can heart rate up and your body moving.6

Some ways you can keep your body moving whilst being seated include:

  • Lifting one foot off the floor at a time so you feel your tummy muscles tense, 5 times for each foot
  • Stretching your leg out in front of you and pushing your big toe towards you so you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Do it 5 times for each foot, twice
  • Place each hand on your shoulders so your arms cross over your body and twist your torso to the left and hold for 5 seconds, repeat to the right. Do this 5 times.7
How can exercise benefit my mental health?

When you exercise your brain releases feel good hormones called endorphins. They help to improve your mood and help you relax.8

As a result, exercise can improve your mental health and wellbeing, especially by:

  • Reducing stress
  • Reducing symptoms of depression
  • Boosting confidence
  • Reducing symptoms of anxiety
  • Boosting cognitive health
  • Boosting quality of sleep.2,3
How much exercise should I do a week?

The amount of exercise you need a week depends on your age. There are different recommendations for children and adults.

Age Recommendation
Under 1 year old
Exercise includes floor-based play and at least 30 minutes of tummy time. Infants this age shouldn’t be awake and still for longer than 1 hour (for example in a car chair or pram)2
1 to 2 year years
180 minutes of physical activity should be carried out throughout the day, every day. This can be rolling, walking, skipping, water play or climbing.9
3 to 4 years
180 minutes of physical activity should be carried out throughout the day, every day. 60 minutes should increase their heart rate. This can be walking, skipping, swimming, cycling or climbing.9
5 to 18 years Children and young people should do both aerobic (increasing heart rate) and anaerobic (strengthening muscles) exercise every week for about 60 minutes a day. Examples include, cycling, swimming, skipping, jumping, football, gymnastics.9
19 to 64 years Adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate anaerobic exercise and anaerobic exercise for at least 2 days of the week. This can be walking cycling, yoga, Pilates or gardening.10
65 and older People over 65 should try to be active every day and it should focus on improving strength, balance and flexibility. Exercises can include, vacuuming, making the bed, moving around the home or garden, mowing the lawn, riding a bike or walking.11

Reviewed by: Connie Whewall, Pharmacist

Published: 27 March 2024

Next review: March 2026

Visit your nearest pharmacy

Get support and advice from your local Well pharmacist

Where can I get more information and support?

NHS website

The NHS website has lots of information about the exercise we should be doing in a week, including examples of exercise and the key benefits to exercise.

NHS inform

Information for people living in Scotland about exercise, the benefits of exercise and the risks of inactivity.

NHS Better Health

The NHS has a website dedicated to helping you improve your health and wellbeing, including information on how to quit smoking, how to lose weight and improve exercise.

  1. Benefits of exercise. Published January 25, 2022. Accessed March 8, 2024.
  2. Physical activity. Accessed March 8, 2024.
  3. How are physical activity and mental health connected? Accessed March 8, 2024.
  4. What are the benefits of exercise? Cancer Research UK. Published September 27, 2018. Accessed March 8, 2024.
  5. Warburton DER, Nicol CW, Bredin SSD. Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. CMAJ. 2006;174(6):801-809. doi:10.1503/cmaj.051351
  6. Benefits of exercise. NHS inform. Accessed March 8, 2024.
  7. Sitting exercises. Published January 26, 2022. Accessed March 20, 2024.
  8. Anderson E, Shivakumar G. Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety. Front Psychiatry. 2013;4:27. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2013.00027
  9. Physical activity guidelines for children and young people. Published January 25, 2022. Accessed May 10, 2023.
  10. Staying active. British Heart Foundation. Accessed March 8, 2024.
  11. Physical activity guidelines for older adults. Published January 25, 2022. Accessed March 8, 2024.

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