Exercise is good for you even if you clock up just a few minutes at a time, new UK guidelines state, overturning previous recommendations that physical activity needed to last at least 10 minutes to bring benefits.
The updated guidelines on physical activity, released by the UK chief medical officers, mean that even a quick sprint up the stairs can contribute to the 150 minutes of moderate to brisk exercise (or 75 mins of intense activity) that adults are recommend to undertake every week.
“We are emphasising the benefits of all activity at all levels, ideally working towards this threshold,” said Dr Charlie Foster, from the University of Bristol, chair of the CMO’s expert committee for physical activity.
The report reiterates that adults should minimise time spent sedentary, as well as undertaking activities to develop or maintain muscle strength twice a week – such as gardening, carrying heavy shopping bags or doing aerobics.
“Physical activity is an under-appreciated asset in our clinical arsenal. It is cheap and brings a long list of health benefits,” said Prof Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England.
Foster stressed that advice on muscle strengthening was too often overlooked. “It has become the forgotten guideline,” he said, adding that such activities were important in staving off a natural decline in muscle mass and bone density as we age. “It is much more important than we have probably thought,” he said.
Older adults at risk of falls are again advised to take up activities like bowls or tai chi twice a week to improve balance and co‑ordination, while for the first time the guidelines for adults have also explicitly been extended to disabled adults, again recommending 150 mins of moderate activity and two days of strength and balance exercises a week.
“Any myths about physical activity being inherently harmful for disabled people should be dispelled,” the report states.
The updated recommendations also mention pregnant women and new mothers, with at least 150 minutes of moderate activity recommended a week, together with twice-weekly muscle strengthening exercises. However, it adds that women should tailor their physical activity to their stage of pregnancy, or delivery, and that vigorous activity should be avoided if an individual is not used to it.
For pregnant women, the guidelines state that exercise can bring benefits including reduced weight gain and a reduction in risk of gestational diabetes. The report also says moderate activity after giving birth helps women regain strength, improve their emotional wellbeing and return to their pre-pregnancy weight.
“Being active won’t affect the quality of your breastmilk or breastfeeding,” said Foster, adding that the guidelines also advise new mothers to undertake pelvic floor exercises, and that women should wait until six to eight weeks after giving birth before gradually building up vigorous exercise.
The guidelines also include recommendations for babies as well as children and young people. Among them, babies that are not yet crawling are recommended to have at least 30 minutes of tummy time throughout the day while they are awake.
Holly Holder, evidence manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, welcomed the report.
“It’s great to see these guidelines focusing on the importance of exercises which improve muscle strength and support good balance, which we know can have a huge impact on keeping us healthier for longer and reducing the risk of falls in later life,” she said. “Many of us don’t realise the huge difference this kind of activity can make to our wellbeing, especially as we age.”
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