Last month the UK’s chief medical officers published new guidelines on physical activity to reflect the latest scientific evidence. Their previous guidelines were published in 2011 but since then the evidence to support the health benefits of regular physical activity has become more compelling. Their key messages are:
- We should all be active every day of the week.
- Every little counts when it comes to exercise – something (however small) is better than nothing.
- Muscle strengthening is essential to our health and wellbeing and we should not neglect it.
- Too much sitting is bad for us even if we meet all the other health targets.
- There’s increasing evidence that very vigorous intensity exercise performed in short bouts interspersed with periods of rest or recovery (high intensity interval exercise, HIIT) is as good as or more effective for our health than moderate-to-vigorous exercise.
We all know how much better we feel for not being puffed going up the stairs or on a walk. The new guidelines urge us to include strength training exercises at least twice a week. Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: “As we age, our muscles weaken and we can become stiff, leading to falls and difficulty performing everyday activities. Physical activity can prevent fragility and support mobility in old age. By keeping active, both throughout the day and also through hobbies, we can slow muscle and bone decline, ultimately keeping us independent for longer.”
Under the new guidelines, adults are advised to undertake strength-based exercise at least 2 days a week, working all the major muscle groups. This can help delay the natural decline in muscle mass and bone density that starts from around age 50. This is a major reason why older people lose their ability to carry out daily tasks.
What do the new guidelines say?
The guidelines give exercise recommendations for children, young adults, pregnant women, new mums and disabled adults. Here are the guidelines for adults and older adults.
For 19-64 year olds
- aim to be physically active every day
- develop or maintain strength of muscles by doing heavy gardening, carrying heavy shopping or resistance exercise – 2 days a week
- at least 150 minutes of activity, such as brisk walking or cycling, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity like running each week, or even shorter durations of very vigorous intensity activity such as sprinting or stair climbing, or a combination
- minimise time spent being sedentary – break up long periods of inactivity.
- some physical activity is better than none
- on two days a week, activity to improve muscle strength, balance and flexibility
- each week, 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, building up gradually, or (if already active) 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or a combination
- break up prolonged periods of being sedentary with light activity when possible, at least with standing.
Will Nordic walking be enough to meet my targets?
Yes. Nordic walking is muscle strengthening moderate-to-vigorous intensity aerobic exercise which uses 90% of our muscles if done properly. The Government recognises the value of Nordic walking for muscle strength and balance, specifically including it in a report published last year. To reap the full Nordic walking benefits:
- Use the ‘talk test’ to gauge how vigorously you’re exercising. Being able to talk but not sing indicates moderate intensity activity, while having difficulty talking without pausing is a sign of vigorous activity. If you’re exercising to a very vigorous intensity level you probably won’t be able to talk much at all.
- Ensure you are pushing firmly into your poles to get the maximum upper body muscle strengthening benefit. This will also help improve your balance.
- Joining one of our three weekly Nordic walking workout classes will give you additional balance, muscle and bone strengthening exercises.
- Nordic walk for at least two hours a week – ideally 2½ hours to meet the government guidelines.