Types of exercise

To maintain or improve your health, adults need to do aerobic and strength exercises every week.

As a minimum adults aged 19-64 should try to be active daily and should do:

  • at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week, and  
  • strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).  

or

  • 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, such as running or a game of singles tennis every week, and
  • strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms). 

or

  • A mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity every week. For example, two 30-minute runs plus 30 minutes of fast walking equates to 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, and
  • strength exercises on two or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).  

One way you can achieve 150 minutes of weekly physical activity is to do 30 minutes on 5 days a week. 

Aerobic activities

Aerobic physical activity helps to protect and maintain heart, lung and circulatory health, thereby reducing your risk of ill health as well as enhancing your mental health and wellbeing and helping you to maintain a healthy body weight.

What counts as moderate activity?

Moderate aerobic activity will increase your heart rate and make you breathe faster than normal and feel warmer. This can include:

It can also include more simple things like pushing a lawnmower, painting and decorating or heavy gardening.

Anything that isn't intense enough to increase your heart rate and breathing speed, like day to day housework or cooking, doesn't count towards your recommended amount of activity, although if it breaks up long periods of sitting it is still beneficial.

One way to tell if you're working at a moderate level is to try the ‘walkie, talkie test’. For example when walking briskly if you can still talk, but you can't sing the words to a song you are working at a moderate intensity. However if you are struggling to say more than a few words between breaths then you are likely to be working vigorously.

What counts as vigorous activity?

Vigorous physical activity can bring health benefits over and above that of moderate activity. During vigorous physical activity your heart will beat faster and your breathing rate will also increase. You’ll know when you are being vigorously active as, unlike moderate activity you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath. They’ll be no singing during the ‘walkie talkie test’.

Moderate and vigorous intensity is subjective, what is moderate to one person may be vigorous to another. It all depends on how fit you are. Generally, the types of activity that require vigorous effort for most people include:

In general, 75 minutes of vigorous activity can give similar health benefits to 150 minutes of moderate activity. Or simply one minute of vigorous is equal to two minutes of moderate activity. Therefore, the more you do, the greater the benefit to your health. 

Muscle strengthening activities

Muscle strength is necessary in order to build and maintain strong bones so that we can easily do everyday tasks. It also regulates blood sugar and blood pressure and helps us to maintain a healthy weight.

Muscle strengthening activities are counted in repetitions and sets. A repetition is one complete movement of an activity, like a bicep curl, sit-up or push-up. A set is a group of repetitions. Muscle strengthening activities are not considered an aerobic activity, so should be done in addition to them.

Muscle strengthening activities may sound like they have to be intense, however activities focused on improving flexibility and mobility in your muscles also count towards your recommended amount. As long as you start off slowly and at pace that feels comfortable you can build up to more intense strengthening or muscle building activity if you wish.

Strength exercises include:

Some activities count as both an aerobic activity and a muscle-strengthening activity, such as:

  • circuit training
  • aerobics
  • running