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Simple ways to get active each day

Dr. Alexandra Phelan: General Practictioner | minute read
Woman in gym clothes doing yoga pose on living room mat.

Introducing physical activity into our daily routine is one of the best ways to support our overall wellbeing. The NHS outlines a wide range of benefits that regular exercise can have for both physical and mental health.

Physical health benefits

  • A lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, bowel cancer, osteoporosis, and other conditions

  • Improved energy levels

  • A regulated metabolism

  • Better sleep quality

Mental health benefits

  • Improved general mood

  • Increased self-confidence and self-esteem

  • Reduced stress levels

  • A lower risk of mental health conditions including depression

  • Up to a 30% decrease in the risk of developing dementia

What activity counts as exercise?

Many of us can find it difficult to get to a gym or an exercise class each day. Factors like time, affordability, and limited mobility can impact our ability to participate in this kind of activity on a regular basis. The good news is that there are lots of different ways to get active without needing to leave home or sign up for expensive gym membership contracts.

The NHS describes moderate-intensity exercise as any activity that makes your heart beat faster, quickens your breathing, and makes you warmer.

Opportunities to walk

Walking is a simple way to increase your daily activity. It can be built into your daily routine in different ways. You might choose a morning walk when you first get up or build it into your daily commute by getting off the bus a stop earlier or parking further away. If you collect your children from school, you could make the walk home a family activity. Or you might want to join a friend or neighbour on a daily dog walk.

Around the house

If you’re just starting to explore what type of exercise works best for you, these home workout videos from the NHS can offer a good introduction. If you have a garden, you might prefer to exercise outside.

You can also find exercise guidance specifically designed for limited mobility that includes stretches and strengthening activity done from a sitting position.

Taking up a new hobby

Motivation to get involved in activity is much easier when it’s something we enjoy. Trying new things can be a good opportunity to discover types of exercise we like as well as finding other benefits such as connection with others and new friendships. The Walking Football Association is a good example of this. If you prefer individual activity, you might want to consider swimming. This low impact physical activity provides a full body workout without causing stress on the joints. If you’re a wheelchair user, the Activity Alliance has a hub of information about inclusive sport and activity in your local area.

Healthy habits if you work at a desk

Eight in 10 office workers spend up to nine hours a day at their desk. Add commuting and relaxing at home, and there’s not a lot of time left for activity. A standing desk can help you burn up to 170 calories more over the course of an afternoon – and leave you feeling energised. Choose the stairs over the lift and find ways to make movement part of your workday. For example, walking meetings have been proven to enhance mental health.

Keeping up with good habits

When we set goals, it takes time and commitment to make them stick. Finding activity that you enjoy and that can be introduced to your usual routine is key to being able to maintain it and achieve consistency. Be patient and be kind to yourself. Focus on celebrating the days you do achieve your goals and keep track of your progress. There are lots of mobile apps you can use to help with this such as the NHS Active 10 app that’s available through the App Store or Google Play.