Health & Wellbeing

Are physical activity targets too high?

Athlete reaching for gymnast rings

There’s been a lot in the press recently about the benefits of just 20 minutes of exercise a week… Yes , a week – not a day. This seems like a bit of a U-turn. The goal posts are constantly moving but, for once, they’re moving in the right direction. So what’s the thinking behind this latest exercise target? In 2013, the World Health Organisation published its Global Action Plan, with the aim of reducing the number of preventable diseases caused by people’s unhealthy lifestyles. This action plan recognised the four biggest risk factors that contribute to preventable diseases as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity. It’s no secret that too much of the first three will have serious consequences for a person’s health and, with as many as 35% of adults being at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, it is becoming more important than ever for people to take action.

It seems, however, that it’s the final point that is causing the most confusion. There is still a lack of clarity surrounding the amount of physical activity a person must do to feel the benefit. A report by the WHO suggests that the current target of 150 minutes of exercise per week is unattainable for many (especially the elderly), and urges health professionals to promote the benefits of small, more attainable levels of physical exercise as part of a gradual path to a more healthy lifestyle. In a similar study at the University of Cambridge, researchers came to the conclusion that just 20 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as a brisk walk) can increase your chances for a longer life by as much as 30 percent (hence the recent press).

One of the biggest barriers for inactive people is having a busy schedule, yet it’s possible to include small changes in your daily routine without needing to set aside a full 20 minutes for moderate exercise. By taking the stairs instead of the lift at work, getting off the bus a stop early or walking to the shop further down the road, you’ll start to feel the benefit and reduce your risk of developing health problems later in life. One of the most unexpected benefits of living a more active lifestyle is the positive effect on mood.

In a study conducted by Harvard University, research found that even small amounts of physical activity led to a lift in mood (even if this exercise had little long term effect), they also concluded that a more positive mood was likely to assist in long term fitness planning and motivation. With an aging population and major strain being placed on the nation’s health service, tackling physical inactivity is now one of the most crucial aims for Britain. By taking small steps to a healthier lifestyle, you can reduce your risk of developing a major illness and live a happier, healthier life.

There’s no such thing as too little. We don’t need the experts to tell us – anything is better than none… Oh and twenty minutes a week? That’s nothing really, is it?