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Start Active, Stay Active – A report on physical activity for health from the four home countries’ Chief Medical Officers

How much exercise should we be doing each week? This report uses new evidence to present guidelines for Adults aged 19 – 64. Note that the advice DOES NOT advise reducing activity as people age. Generally speaking, we are more active when we are younger and exercise less as we age. Many of us have sedentary jobs and few of us can rely on our occupation to keep us active and healthy.

All adults should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods. Many adults are largely sedentary, spending large proportions of the day sitting or lying, with very low energy expenditure. 

Sedentary behaviours occur in numerous settings, including at work, at home, during transport and in leisure time. Common sedentary behaviours include TV viewing, computer use, motorised transport and sitting to read, talk or listen to music. Many adults spend in excess of seven hours sedentary time per day, and this typically increases with age.

Evidence is emerging that various indicators of sedentary behaviour – for example, time spent watching TV, total sitting time and objectively measured accumulated sedentary time – are adversely and independently associated with becoming overweight and obese, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.

While there is accumulating evidence suggesting that sedentary time predicts a number of adverse health outcomes in adults, the available data is not sufficient to suggest a specific quantitative recommendation on daily sedentary time for health, or for maintaining a healthy body weight and the prevention of obesity. It is likely that some reductions in sedentary behaviour may result in a direct transfer to moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity, while some will result in a transfer to low intensity activity, such as standing or gentle walking. Based on the current evidence, reducing total sedentary time and breaking up extended periods of sitting is strongly recommended.

Understanding the guidelines for adults (19-64 years)

Why do we need new guidelines for adults?

These new guidelines for adults are consistent across the UK and update previous recommendations in the light of emerging scientific evidence. The recommendation about combining moderate and vigorous intensity activity provides people with flexibility to achieve the required amount of physical activity.

What are the needs of this age group?

This is a large and diverse age group. Many key life events that can impact on activity – such as getting a job or retiring, moving house, starting or ending a relationship, becoming a parent, gaining or losing weight or being diagnosed with illness – can happen in these years.

Longitudinal studies have shown that becoming a mother often leads to a decline in physical activity for women. Serious illness, impairment and disability in childhood and early adulthood impact upon physical activity participation; however, the onset of chronic disease in older family members can help to highlight to adults the health benefits of physical activity.

Younger adults can see physical activity as an opportunity to participate in team or individual sports for pleasure and social benefit, to create new social networks and to maintain a healthy body weight. For adults with families, physical activity offers the chance for relaxation, to re-energise and feel less tired, and to maintain a healthy weight. As people approach older adulthood, physical activity is seen as something that helps with weight maintenance and weight loss, and with other lifestyle changes (such as stopping smoking) and provides a chance to be active with friends and family.

How can individuals meet the guidelines for general health benefit?

Doing at least 30 minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity on five or more days of the week has been a common recommendation, and has been included in national campaigns.

However, the overall volume of physical activity is more important than frequency or duration. These guidelines therefore offer choices for adults in how they make up their weekly volume of activity.

For most people, the easiest and most acceptable forms of physical activity are those that can be incorporated into everyday life. Examples include walking or cycling instead of travelling by car. However, for those people who want to be more active, a larger quantity of activity at higher intensity can bring further benefits. For adults, it is recommended to take 150 minutes of physical activity over a week through a variety of moderate intensity, aerobic physical activities.

It is important that these are spread across the week to optimise the short-term benefits of aerobic physical activity. Sport and recreational activity included alongside everyday physical activity can provide important social benefits that help to sustain participation.

Rohan’s Example:

Rohan works in HR at a large company. He would like to be more active, particularly as he’s noticed that he is getting less fit and is starting to put on weight. He often works long hours so finds it hard to commit to anything formal such as a local sports club. Instead he has bought a bike and enjoys getting out for bike rides at the weekend. He has also started taking the stairs at work instead of the lift and tries to get outside for a walk during his lunch break. Once a week, Rohan uses weights machines in the company gym. As his job is desk based, he tries to use his email less and deliver messages to colleagues in person where possible. He also walks 15 minutes from his flat to the train station in the morning and evening – Rohan has discovered that the evening walk also gives him time to unwind after a busy and stressful day.

What intensity of activity is required for health benefits?

Activity needs to be of at least moderate intensity to benefit health. A person who is doing moderate intensity activity will usually experience an increase in breathing rate and an increase in heart rate, will feel warmer and may sweat on hot or humid days. The amount of activity someone needs to do for their activity to qualify as moderate intensity varies from one individual to another. A person who is unfit or overweight may only have to walk up a slope, whereas a very fit athlete may be able to run quite fast before reaching this level.

In an activity like walking, people should focus on their perception of the effort they need to make, rather than their speed. Vigorous intensity activity can bring health benefits over and above that of moderate intensity activity.

Including vigorous intensity activity in the guidelines acknowledges that, for those adults who are capable of and enjoy vigorous intensity activity, this may be the most efficient way of meeting recommended activity levels.

Someone undertaking vigorous intensity physical activity will usually be breathing very hard, be short of breath, have a rapid heartbeat and be unable to carry on a conversation.

The recommended levels of activity can be achieved through a combination of moderate and vigorous intensity activity. This allows individuals to meet the target in a way which suits their personal circumstances, including their current level of fitness and health, the time available to them and their activity preferences. For example, a daily walk to work may be combined with a swim, gym-based workout and a weekend cycle ride to add up to the target weekly amount of physical activity.

People who are currently inactive will often need to build up slowly, particularly if they aspire to vigorous intensity physical activity. Shorter sessions of physical activity offer an easier starting point for people who have been inactive for some time, or who have busy lifestyles and find it hard to make activity a priority.

What about muscle strengthening activity?

Muscle strengthening activities should be undertaken in addition to the 150 minutes of aerobic activity (moderate or vigorous intensity) on at least two days a week. They need to involve all the major muscle groups of the body: the legs, hips, chest, abdomen, shoulders, back and arms.

No specific amount of time is recommended for muscle strengthening, but exercises should be performed to the point at which it would be difficult to do another repetition without help. Although more research is required to define the optimum dose of muscle strengthening activity, performing 8–12 repetitions of muscle strengthening activities involving all major muscle groups twice per week will provide substantial benefits.

Some vigorous intensity physical activities may provide 75 minutes of aerobic activity and sufficient muscle strengthening activity, for example BOOTCAMP! –  or participation in recreational sports such as basketball or volleyball.

What type of activity qualifies?

All activities qualify as long as they are of sufficient intensity and duration, including occupational activities and active travel (brisk walking or biking to work).

Moderate Intensity: includes brisk walking, bike riding, dancing, swimming, active travel to/from work etc.

Vigorous Intensity: includes running, playing sport, taking part in BootCamp Workouts, using cardiovascular gym equipment.

Muscle Strengthening includes weight training, working with resistance bands, carrying heavy loads, powerbags, push ups, sit ups, squats, rows – (all the things we do at BootCamp!).

What about sedentary behaviour?

The guidelines also contain a new recommendation encouraging adults to minimise the time they spend being sedentary (sitting) each day. This is included because there is now evidence that sedentary time is an independent risk factor for poor health. Any substitution of sedentary time for physical activity, even if it just results in low intensity activity, will increase energy expenditure. If sedentary time is swapped for moderate or vigorous intensity activity of 10 minutes or more, this will also contribute to achieving the weekly physical activity targets.

Sedentary behaviour can be reduced throughout the day, including at work, when travelling and at home. Examples include replacing motorised travel with active travel such as cycling and walking, taking regular breaks from extended periods of sedentary behaviour and reducing total sitting and screen time.

What is the role of these guidelines in weight management?

For adults who currently have low physical activity levels, doing 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week will substantially increase their energy expenditure and bring health benefits.

For those who are overweight or obese, achieving a healthy weight is likely to require a greater level of activity than the 150 minutes recommended here, and should be accompanied by dietary changes to reduce calorie intake.

People who are overweight or obese should first aim to gradually build up to 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week. This will provide substantial health benefits even in the absence of reductions in body weight.

A Summary by 1000 Calorie BootCamp Founder, Felix Deer:

What the study shows is what we have been advocating at LemonBody from the very start. We’re not being smug about this – much of the report is common sense but it does feel nice to be proved right!

Move More: Try to avoid long periods of sedentary time like sitting etc. This may be difficult to achieve at work but you can almost certainly do better!

Do 150 Minutes of Moderate to Vigorous Exercise a week: 2 or 3 BootCamp Sessions will do that for you but you should aim to do something on the days you don’t do BootCamp. Anything that gets your heart rate up is good.

Lift Heavy Things: In ADDITION to the 150 minutes recommended above, the report recommends you do Strength Training at least twice per week. Thankfully, BootCamp ALWAYS includes Strength Training and this is especially important for women! You will not grow huge, ugly muscles and look like a man, you’ll just get all the health benefits and look more toned!

Not had your Free Trial yet? What are you waiting for? Just turn up and join in – no need to book. See you at a BootCamp Workout soon!




Captain Felix Deer joined the Army in 1985 and served in a number of Training Officer roles, qualifying as a Unit Fitness Officer in 1986. Since leaving the Army in 1994, Felix has sold property, built houses and flown airliners for a living, but has always maintained his keen interest in Fitness.

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