What do gardening, sex and skateboarding have in common?

They all count towards your daily exercise quota!

OK, so technically sex isn’t included in the list of NHS recommended exercises, but I reckon it meets the criteria for aerobic activity (see below)

Why bother?

“Yeah, yeah, another blog post telling me I need to exercise. Whatever.”

The benefits of exercise are profound and wide-ranging

I know I’ve shared this infographic many times before, but I feel this information is so powerful but so little-known. Regular exercise reduces your risk of all causes of mortality by 30%. Or, in other words, by not doing regular physical activity as these guidelines suggest, you increase your risk of premature death by a third.

As well as all the other benefits listed on this diagram, it’s also well-known that an inactive lifestyle is a big predictive factor for a lot of musculoskeletal pain, including back pain, neck pain and knee pain. These conditions are all common and, with 1 in 5 GP consultations being for one of these conditions, are a big burden on the healthcare system.

How much exercise do I need?

If you’re aged 19-64, the most recent research suggests that it’s important to do 2 types of exercise regularly

  1. Aerobic exercise – these are exercises which boost your metabolism. You need 75minutes of vigorous aerobic activity OR 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity every week. As a rule, 1 minute of vigorous activity will provide the same benefits as 2 minutes of moderate activity. It should leave you slightly sweaty, a little breathless and with a slight increase in heart rate. (See what I mean about sex being a good candidate?)
  2. Muscle strengthening – these are exercises which may or may not leave you short of breath, but will help build strength and endurance in your muscles. It is recommended these are done twice a week, and include all major muscle groups in your body (so not just arms and chest, but also legs and back, etc)

It’s also recommended on top of this that all adults stay generally active throughout the day and avoid periods of prolonged sitting.

What counts?

It’s easy to assume that to exercise you have to attend a gym, or have a personal trainer, or wear lycra. Actually, lots of every day activities could count towards moderate aerobic exercise, such as:

  • a brisk walk to the shops
  • pushing a lawnmower
  • playing tag with your children in the garden or park

You could also include things like skateboarding or rollerblading, or riding a bike on level ground.

For vigorous aerobic exercise, you probably need to make more of an effort than you would in every day activities. This could include things like:

  • A bike ride over hills
  • Jogging or running
  • Sports like tennis, hockey, netball or football (but not like golf)
  • Gym classes like aerobics
  • Some martial arts (but not tai chi)

To strengthen muscles, activities could include:

  • lifting weights
  • working with resistance bands
  • doing exercises that use your own body weight, such as push-ups and sit-ups
  • heavy gardening, such as digging and shovelling
  • yoga
  • pilates

These exercises are counted in reps and sets, and to get the benefits you need to do at least one set of 8-12 reps, using a weight that makes the last rep a challenge.

Lots of sports actually count as both aerobic and muscle strengthening, such as running, football, rugby, netball and hockey.

The power of small changes

One thing to remember is that there’s little or no benefit to “one-off workouts” or short-term health kicks. To have the incredible benefits we discussed earlier, exercise really needs to become part of your lifestyle and be performed regularly. Therefore, you could argue that the most important factor for any exercise you do is that it be enjoyable. After all, you need to stick at it long term.

So don’t be afraid to try new things until you find something that you’ll love to do for exercise. Like being outdoors? Join a walking club. Hate the machines at the gym? Try a class instead. Love music? Start salsa lessons! Like being part of a team? Join a local sport club. Fancy something sociable? Pick up a friend and go for a hike. Preparing to grow your family? Pregnancy yoga. There’s something out there for everyone.

If you need some ideas, Julia has lots of links to local groups and events that you might like to try, so just mention it at your next session for inspiration!