There are many benefits to an active lifestyle, but not everyone knows some of the not so obvious perks of an active lifestyle. Being regularly physically active really can make a huge difference to your happiness and wellbeing. It may also help you feel better about your appearance, boost your confidence, improve your self-esteem, energy and sleep as well as reduce your risk of stress and depression.
According to the NHS people can reduce their risk of major illness, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke by up to 50% if they follow a recommended minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week (that’s 30 minutes, 5 days a week).
Helping your body feel good
Exercise and physical activity deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and help your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. When your heart and lungs work more efficiently, you have more energy to go about your daily chores.
Benefits of exercise
People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers. Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep.
Some useful exercise habits
- Walk wherever possible: get off the bus or train a stop early, park your car further away from where you work and use the stairs
- Find the exercise you love: chose something active you enjoy that fits in with your lifestyle and try to do it 2-3 times a week
- Exercise at a time that suits you: different people will favour different times of day; for some, morning is best before the other demands of the day take hold, for others, an exercise session at lunchtime ensures a break and gives energy for the afternoon, others like to get the stresses of the day out of their system after work
- Balance your programme: try to combine resistance, cardiovascular and stretching exercise
- Having sufficient energy makes exercise easier: eat well and sleep well, this will ensure you have enough energy to exercise
- Challenge yourself: get out of your comfort zone, for example, swim, walk or run a little faster or a little longer
- Vary your exercise: every six weeks change your routine to get the greatest benefits from exercise
- Consider joining a class or a group, this will help to motivate you along with building relationships with people who enjoy the same activities as you.
The positive chemicals of exercise
Exercise can help manage physical and mental stress. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that can leave you feeling happier and more relaxed.
Exercise also releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among people with clinical depression and those who suffer from anxiety. For this reason, doctors recommend that people suffering from depression or anxiety (or those who are just feeling blue) pencil in plenty of gym time.
The Mental Health Foundation’s top tips for looking after your mental health include:-
- talk about your feelings
- keep active
- eat well
- drink sensibly
- keep in touch with friends and family
- ask for help.
For further information on how to look after your mental health using exercise, see the Mental Health Foundation website.
The enjoyment of sport
Exercise and physical activity can be a fun way to spend some time. It gives you a chance to unwind, enjoy the outdoors or simply engage in activities that make you happy. Physical activity can also help you connect with family or friends in a fun social setting. So, take a dance class, hit the hiking trails or join a football team. Find a physical activity you enjoy that is achievable and sustainable. If you get bored, try something new.
Choosing your exercise plan
The NHS recommends that in order to stay healthy, adults need to do two types of exercise each week, aerobic and strength exercises. Here are some suggestions for weekly exercise combinations that meet the NHS minimum guidelines:-
- 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity. for example, cycling or fast walking
- and strength exercises on at least two days a week.
- 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, for example, running or a game of tennis
- and strength exercises on at least two days a week.
- a mix or moderate and vigorous aerobic activity, for example two 30 minute runs and one 30 minute fast walk
- and strength exercises on a least two days a week.
Moderate aerobic activity
Moderate exercise includes activities such as:-
- walking quickly
- water aerobics
The Swimming.org website contains advice about a range of water-based activities including aqua aerobics and aqua zumba. For further information, including how to find your local pool, see the Swimming.org website.
UK Walking and Rambling Clubs
Rambling clubs are not just for the super-fit, anybody who can walk can join a rambling club or association. For further information, including how to find a club in your local area, see the UK Walking and Rambling Clubs website.
Volleyball can be played both indoors and out, and is suitable for both able-bodied and disabled people. For further information, including how to find a club in your local area, see the Volleyball England website.
Basketball does not have to be played at a national or local level. Many clubs are made up of people who want to have fun and play recreationally. For further information, including how to find a club in your local area, see the Basketball England website.
Vigorous aerobic activity
Vigorous exercise includes activities such as:-
- jogging or running
- martial arts.
Jogging or running helps to strengthen leg and abdominal muscles and also the cardiovascular system. For further information, including how to find your local running or jogging club, see the Run Together website.
The FA Just Play
The FA Just Play is a scheme that enables people of all abilities to participate in football. For further information, including how to find your local club, see The FA Just Play website.
Gymnastics requires no specialist equipment or skills, there are classes to suit all ages and abilities. For further information, including how to find your local club, see the British Gymnastics website.
Martial Arts Near You
Martial Arts covers a wide range of exercise, including Jiu-Jitsu, Kick Boxing and Taekwondo, and caters for all ages and abilities. For further information, including how to find your local club, see the Martial Arts Near You website.
Strengthening exercises involve using all of your muscles to improve overall strength. Strengthening exercises include activities such as:-
- heavy gardening, for example, digging or shovelling
- training with weights
- activities that involve stepping and jumping, for example, dancing.
When planning your exercise routine, do ensure that you allow time for rest as well, even elite athletes have rest days. Clearly, exercise is a good thing, however too much of a good thing can be harmful. Exercise releases endorphins, but people can become addicted to this ‘high’. Symptoms include:-
- continuing to exercise regardless of injuries or fatigue
- feeling anxious when you cannot exercise
- using exercise as a punishment for eating high-calorie and/or high-fat food
- spending too much time preparing for and engaging in exercise
- cancelling social or recreational activities because of exercise.
For further information about exercise addiction, see the Believe Perform (a UK sports psychology website) website.
The British Wheel of Yoga
Depending on your ability, you can opt for a low impact yoga class or something a little more demanding. For further information, including how to find your local yoga class, see The British wheel of Yoga website.
National Garden Clubs
Joining a national gardening club will allow you to meet with other people who share a love of gardening. For further information, including how to find your local club, see the National Garden Clubs website.
Netfit are involved in the education and training of fitness instructors and athletes. They have some free weight training exercises on their website.
Need more inspiration?
The BBC has compiled an A-Z guide of more than seventy different activities complete with helpful tips and links. For further inspiration, see the BBC Sport Get Inspired website.
This fact sheet was last reviewed on 7 February 2020.