Regular exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. People who lead an active life are less likely to get ill and more likely to live longer. Exercise not only makes you physically fitter, it also improves your mental health and general sense of wellbeing.

It’s important that physical activity is a part of life for children, adults and older people. It doesn’t have to be a vigorous workout – you can find ways to fit being active into your daily routine, such as walking. If you have never done exercise or haven’t done any for a while, it’s easy to get started. Physical activity is key for maintaining a healthy body weight and it’s even beneficial during pregnancy. However, make sure you take steps to stay injury free and remember that nutrition and hydration also play an important role. Eating the correct nutrients provides the fuel you need to exercise and drinking fluids helps to prevent dehydration.

  • Why do I need to keep active?
  • Children and exercise

Why do I need to keep active?


Keeping physically active can help prevent major illnesses. Some of the health benefits of exercise are described below.

Heart health

  • Exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Every year in the UK, around 53,000 people die from stroke and 94,000 from coronary heart disease. Inactive people have almost double the risk of dying from heart disease compared with people who are active. So if you don’t do any exercise at all, even doing a little more physical activity – for example, walking each day – can help reduce your risk of these conditions.
  • Taking exercise can also help to reduce high blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure is common – one in three adults in the UK has it. If you have high blood pressure, you’re more likely to have a stroke or heart attack. Exercise can help to prevent high blood pressure, and reduce it if yours is already too high.
  • You can help to improve the balance of your cholesterol by exercising. There are two types of cholesterol – low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is sometimes called ‘bad’ cholesterol; HDL cholesterol is sometimes called ‘good’ cholesterol. High levels of LDL and low levels of HDL increase your risk of heart disease. Studies show that regular exercise such as brisk walking or running is linked to higher levels of HDL cholesterol.

Bones and joints

  • You’re more likely to have lower back pain if you don’t do any exercise. Eight out of 10 people have lower back pain at some time in their lives, but people who exercise are less likely to get it. If you do have lower back pain, exercise can help to reduce it.
  • Regular, moderate activity, including walking, swimming and cycling can help to treat and reduce pain caused by osteoarthritis. This is the most common form of arthritis, with about eight out of 10 people over 50 affected by the condition. It may also prevent and slow progression of osteoarthritis.
  • Physical activity can increase bone mineral density in children and help to maintain strong bones in adolescents. It also slows down bone degeneration later in life. This can help to prevent osteoporosis – when your bones become brittle and more prone to break. High-impact exercise such as running and skipping puts weight on your bones and increases bone density in younger people. But choose low-impact, weight-bearing exercise, such as gentle walking or swimming, if you already have osteoporosis.

Chronic diseases

  • You’re less likely to develop certain cancers if you’re physically active. Exercise protects against colon cancer and against breast cancer in women who have been through the menopause. Some studies suggest that physical activity may also help prevent lung and endometrial cancers.
  • Doing physical activity can help to manage and prevent diabetes. Over 2 million people in the UK have diabetes. Keeping active can help lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Exercise is especially important if you’re at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes, for example if you’re overweight, have high blood pressure or have close family members with the condition.
  • Exercise is also good for you if you already have diabetes – regular physical activity can help control your blood sugar levels and prevent long-term complications.

Mental health and wellbeing

  • Exercise can both help prevent and treat mental illness. Some studies suggest that regular physical activity is as effective for treating depression as talking treatments or medicines, with fewer side-effects than medicines. You may also benefit from exercise if you have anxiety-related disorders, such as phobias, panic attacks or stress.
  • You’re likely to feel happier, more satisfied with life and have an improved sense of wellbeing if you’re physically active. Introduce regular exercise into your routine and you should sleep better, lower your stress levels and boost your self-image. It’s possible that it may improve brain function in children and older adults.

Weight

  • Taking exercise can help you to manage your weight. Physical activity burns up calories and so helps to create a healthy energy balance. Exercise is essential for everyone for maintaining a healthy weight.
  • You’re more likely to be obese if you’re inactive. Physical activity alone can help you lose weight if you’re overweight or obese – the more you do, the more you will lose. However, combining exercise with a healthy diet will mean you lose weight faster.

Children and exercise


With around one in three children now classed as being overweight or obese by the time they reach age 11, it’s more important than ever to get children active. Physical activity in childhood has a number of benefits including healthy growth and development. It helps children maintain a healthy weight and gives them an opportunity to interact with other people and make friends. Activities that put stress on children’s bones, including jumping and skipping, can help protect against osteoporosis in later life and develop strong, healthy bones. Physical activity can increase self-esteem, and may reduce stress, anxiety and depression in adolescents.

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