Benefits of exercise

Expert reviewer, Dr Naveen Puri, Associate Clinical Director and Lead Medical Appraiser at Bupa
Next review due August 2024

Regular exercise and activity have many benefits for your body and your mind. Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. It can help you manage your weight, reduce your risk of developing many health conditions and prevent mental health problems. It’s often sociable, can help you feel less isolated and stay independent in the long run. Visit

Exercise benefits everyone

You can benefit from exercise, no matter how old you are. There are benefits of exercises for kids that can last a lifetime. But older people get huge benefits from keeping active too. Whatever your age or ability, the more time you spend being active, the greater the benefits are likely to be.

Whatever your stage of life, there are plenty of different options to try. Being active doesn’t have to mean going to the gym, heading out for a run or playing a sport. It can be as simple as having a brisk walk to and from work instead of getting in the car. What’s important is to sit less and move more, whatever activity you choose. Any activity is better than none but the more you can do, the better.

What type of exercise should I do?

Guidelines recommend that you take as much opportunity as you can to be active. Every minute of activity counts, and the type of activity you do could come from these main areas.

  • Active travel. This means using a bike or walking to get to and from the places you need to go.
  • Active recreation. These are activities that are part of your daily life – for example, walking the dog, carrying heavy shopping and doing the housework. For children, it can mean play, games and time spent at the playground.
  • Sport. This means both organised sport such as your local five-a-side football, and an exercise class or activity you do yourself such as jogging or cycling.

The UK guidelines for physical activity recommend three areas to focus on.

  • Strengthening activity. This is activity that will improve your muscle strength, bone health and balance. Yoga and Pilates and using weights at the gym are all strengthening activities.
  • Cardiovascular activity. This is sometimes called aerobic activity. These activities make you breathe harder and faster and make your heart and muscles work harder. Cardiovascular activities include swimming, brisk walking and cycling.
  • Reducing sedentary time. This means sitting down less. If you spend a long time working at a desk, for example, it’s a good idea to get up regularly and do some activity.
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How much exercise should I do?

The amount of activity you should aim to do varies depending on your age. These are the main UK guidelines.

  • All adults should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week. Or you could do 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise over the course of the week. You can do this in short blocks of time, such as 10 or 15 minutes at a time. You can also mix up the intensities and do some moderate and some vigorous exercise. You should do strengthening exercises at least twice a week. Older adults should also do activities that help with balance – for example, tai chi or dancing – twice a week.
  • Children between 5 and 16 should do an hour of activity every day. This should be a mix of cardiovascular and strengthening activities, spread across the day. Activities can include PE lessons at school, active play and walking or cycling to and from school.
  • Babies and children up to age 5 should be active for at least 3 hours a day. That might sound like a lot, but it can include play activities as well as walking, toddling and crawling. Babies under one also need to spend half an hour a day on their tummies.

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