NHS Citizen

The Importance The  of Physical Fitness

Being physically active is a very important aspect of health and wellbeing. Active people report feelings of enhanced wellbeing, a sense of achievement, relaxation and release from daily stress; all because of moving more. The best way to keep active is to make changes to your lifestyle, finding activities you enjoy, whether it is enjoying a sport, fitness session, walking or travelling by bicycle.

Physical fitness can improve your quality of life with any physical activity having the potential to have immediate and long-term health benefits. Just 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each day can improve your health and reduce the risk of developing several diseases. 

What is moderate intensity exercise

How hard you have to work to do the activity is a measure of the intensity. The intensity of different forms of physical activity varies between people. It is affected by current fitness levels and previous exercise experience. Moderate level activity is any which raises your heartbeat, makes you breathe a bit faster, feel a bit warmer, but where you can still talk comfortably.

It is surprisingly easy to get enough exercise to significantly benefit your health and wellbeing. The most important thing is to build on what you are doing already and minimise the amount of time you spend sitting down doing nothing. Exercise does not mean you have to join a gym, though you can if you want to. It also includes walking, dancing, gardening, housework, active involvement in games and sports with children and carrying or moving moderate loads up to 20kg.

Intensity Exercise

Health experts have made recommendations for the amount of daily moderate intensity exercise for children, adults and older adults. It is recommended that children have a minimum of 60 minutes moderate intensity exercise daily, including exercise that strengthens bones and muscles.

For adults the recommendation is for 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise at least 5 days a week, with older people to include exercises that help with balance and co-ordination. You will also experience benefits even if you divide your time into two or three segments of 10 to 15 minutes per day.

Getting started

Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you currently do no physical activity, start by doing some, and gradually build up to the recommended amount. Start with small changes such as walking or cycling instead of using the car, getting off a tram, train or bus a stop earlier and walking the rest of the way, or walking the children to school. 

Benefits of regular physical activity

If you are regularly physically active, you gain many benefits. Generally people feel better, with more energy, a better mood because of feeling more relaxed and sleeping better. Other benefits include:  

  • Half the risk of a heart attack or stroke
  • Better weight management
  • Lowers blood cholesterol levels 
  • Lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes and some cancers. 
  • Lowers blood pressure 
  • Strengthens bones, muscles and joints which lowers the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Lowers the risk of falls because of maintained or improved flexibility.
  • Aids better recovery after a period of hospitalisation or bed rest

Some studies have found that exercise helps depression. This may be because it distracts from worries or negative thoughts. Exercising with others provides an opportunity for increased social contact. Exercise has also been found to change levels of chemicals in the brain, such as the feel-good hormones serotonin and endorphins. 

Start today

The simplest, positive change you can make to improve your physical fitness is to start walking. It's enjoyable, free, easy, social and great exercise. The NHS has been supporting the Walking for Health initiative for almost two decades which supports people of all ages and abilities, including those who have health conditions, to get more active. The walks start at under a mile in length on the flat, to more challenging countryside walks of 3 miles plus. There are regular walks on every day of the week. The award-winning scheme has helped people make new friends and improve their physical and mental health. All the walks are led by trained Volunteer Walk Leaders who know the route and help everyone get the best out of their walk.

Starting a diet goes hand in hand with exercising, as what you eat is essential for your healt.