Be Active

Our bodies are designed to move, so being physically active is essential for maintaining good health. Walking, cycling, gardening, dancing and swimming are all ideal ways to be physically active. 

 

Physical inactivity is a risk factor for many health problems and is the 4th leading cause of death worldwide. In Northern Ireland only 35% of adults are currently meeting the physical activity recommendations.

 

Sedentary Behaviour


Sedentary behaviour is sitting or lying down which typically requires very low energy expenditure. Over 25% of adults in Northern Ireland lead a sedentary lifestyle by sitting for extending periods. Sedentary behaviour is a risk factor for poor health independent of physical activity, so even if you are physically active by going for a walk every day or attending exercise classes several times a week, you also need to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting for extended periods in order to maintain good health.

 

Benefits of being active

Regular physical activity has many health benefits:

  • Reduces the risk of dying prematurely
  • Reduces the risk of dying from heart disease
  • Reduces the risk of developing diabetes
  • Reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure
  • Helps reduce blood pressure in people who already have high blood pressure
  • Reduces the risk of developing bowel cancer
  • Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Helps control weight
  • Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints
  • Helps older adults become stronger and better able to move about withouth falling
  • Promotes psychological well-being

To get the most benefit from physical activity we should aim to do ‘moderate intensity’ physical activities.  These activities will cause us to get warmer and breathe harder and our hearts to beat faster, but still enable you to carry on a conversation. Examples include brisk walking, cycling, dancing or playground games for children.

Vigorous intensity’ physical activities will cause us to get warmer and breathe much harder and our hearts to beat rapidly, making it more difficult to carry on a conversation. Examples include running, swimming or sports such as football. 

Physical activities that strengthen muscles are also important.  These involve using all the major muscle groups by body weight or working against a resistance.  Examples include exercising with weights or carrying or moving heavy loads such as groceries.

How physically active do we need to be?

The Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines (2011) emphasise that we should aim to be active every day in order to maintain good health. 

There are separate guidelines for different age groups:

Children from birth to 5 years

  • Encourage physical activity like floor and water based play from birth.
  • Pre-school children who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active for at least 3 hours, spread throughout the day.
  • Limit the amount of time babies and children spend being restrained, e.g. in pushchairs, seats or sitting in front of the TV.

Children & Young People aged 5-18

  • All children & young people should engage in at least 60 minutes and up to several hours of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity a day.
  • Vigorous intensity activities, including those that strengthen muscle and bone (such as hopping, skipping, playing tennis or swinging on playground equipment) should be incorporated at least three days a week.
  • Reduce the amount of time spent being inactive (sitting).

Adults aged 18-64

  • All adults should engage in at least 2.5 hours of physical activity a week in bouts of at least 10 minutes.  Similar benefits can be achieved through 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity spread across the week or combinations of moderate and vigorous intensity activity. 
  • Adults should also undertake muscle strengthening activity like carrying groceries or lifting weights at least twice a week. 
  • Reduce the amount of time spent being inactive (sitting).

Older adults aged 65+

  • Older adults who participate in any amount of physical activity gain some health benefits, including maintenance of good physical and cognitive function. Some physical activity is better than none, and more physical activity provides greater health benefits.
  • Over a week, activity should add up to at least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more.  For those who are already regularly active at moderate intensity, similar benefits can be achieved through 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity spread across the week or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.
  • Older adults should also undertake physical activity to improve muscle strength such as carrying loads on at least two days a week.
  • Older adults at risk of falls should incorporate physical activity to improve balance and co ordination on at least two days a week.
  • Reduce the amount of time spent being inactive (sitting).

For more information on guidelines for specific age groups, go to: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-physical-activity-guidelines

Key Physical Activity Messages

  • Move more and sit less
  • Aim to build up to at least 10,00 steps a day – download an app or use a pedometer to measure your steps
  • Be active every day to benefit your health & well-being
  • Some physical activity is better than none
  • It is never too late to start being active
  • Physical activity need not be strenuous to achieve health benefits
  • Greater health benefits can be achieved by increasing the amount (duration, frequency, or intensity) of physical activity

Useful websites

The Health Improvement Department provide a range of free information leaflets and training opportunities.

To view our catalogue of resources click here.

To view our Training Brochure for activites click here.