Sedentary lifestyles increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease
Today, updated Government guidelines on physical activity have been published, continuing the recommendation that for good physical and mental health, adults aged 19-64 should aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week. The guidelines highlight that this can be achieved in different ways and that higher intensity activity for a shorter amount of time (e.g. 75 minutes of high intensity activity a week) is likely to provide a similar health benefit.
Adults should also do muscle strengthening activities, that develop or maintain strength in the major muscle groups, twice a week, which can include heavy gardening, carrying heavy shopping, or resistance exercise. One of the changes to the strength guidelines is that they now include very vigorous intensity activity, impact exercise and balance training.
Another important change to the guidelines has been the removal of advice that physical activity should be accumulated in bouts of at least 10 minutes of moderate intensity at a time, with the new guidelines stressing that even short bouts of activity still count towards the 150 minutes a week. The guidelines emphasise that any activity is better than none and that activity is valuable, even below a moderate intensity. They also focus on the idea that the more activity an adult undertakes, the better for health. It has been estimated that around 20 million people in the UK do not meet these recommendations.
For older adults the updated guidelines recommend being active every day. They underline that some physical activity is better than none and that even light activity brings some health benefits compared to sedentary behavior.
Recommendations for children and young peopleThe revised recommendation for children and young people (5-18 years of age) is to engage in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for an average of 60 minutes per day across the week, including physical activity to develop movement skills, muscular fitness, and bone strength. The revised recommendations for children under 5 years are split into infants (less than 1 year), toddlers (1-2 years) and pre-schoolers (3-4 years). More information about these recommendations for under 5s can be found here.
The experts involved in the updated recommendations didn’t feel there was enough evidence to provide specific guidance on a time limit for sedentary behaviour or for how often this should be broken up. However, the revised recommendation is that 5-18 year olds and all adults should aim to minimise the amount of time spent sedentary and should break up periods of sitting with at least light physical activity.
The importance of physical activity
Increasing levels of physical activity and reducing sedentary time is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Regular physical activity can also contribute to weight maintenance and reduction in body fat. The BNF Task Force report, Cardiovascular Disease: Diet, Nutrition and Emerging Risk Factors, 2nd Edition, published earlier this year, highlights that being active can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by up to 35 percent, and that regular activity can improve many risk factors linked to these conditions, including high blood cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation. This report also highlighted that sedentary behavior is bad for health and increases risk of heart disease. This association between spending long periods of time sitting and an increased risk of chronic disease seems to persist even when people are physically active at other times.
Overall, although there have been no large changes to the recommendations, there is an added focus on the importance of even very short periods of physical activity and that some is always better than none. UK adults should aim to be physically active for 150 minutes a week including strength exercises twice a week. To provide some ideas on putting the updated guidance into practice, BNF has compiled infographics with activity ideas and a practical weekly plan with examples of how to reach 150 minutes of activity a week, which can be downloaded below.
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Please note that advice provided on our website about nutrition and health is general in nature. We do not provide any personal advice on prevention, treatment and management for patients or their family members.