How much exercise should I do per week?

These is the recommended amount of exercise for women, including older women

How much exercise do you need
(Image credit: Getty)

This is how much exercise you need to do per week to live a longer, healthier life.

Exercise is essential to our wellbeing. In the UK alone, not exercising enough is linked to one in six deaths and up to 40 per cent of chronic health conditions, including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. The most recent figures state that one in four women and one in five men are physically inactive – which means they do less than half an hour’s moderate exercise per week – and 29 per cent of us sit down for six or more hours a day. But exercise doesn’t have to be something you dread. Just swapping your sofa for one of the best yoga mats while sitting in front of the TV could be the simple boost you need to add extra stretches into your day.

Research proves that the more active we are, the lower our health risks. According to a 2018 American study, regular physical activity reduces the following:

  • Overall mortality by 30%
  • Bone fractures by 66%
  • Breast cancer by 20%
  • Cognitive decline by 40%
  • Coronary heart disease and stroke by 25%
  • Depression by 48%
  • Hypertension by 33%
  • Type 2 diabetes by 35%

Other benefits of exercise include better sleep, increased productivity, improved learning, more social interaction and reduced stress. And, if you’ve been working from home recently, something as simple and gentle as yoga can improve your posture.

“Becoming more active has many health benefits; it helps promote healthy ageing and support positive mental health,” says Dr Anna Lowe, physical activity clinical champion for Public Health England.

How much should we exercise? Including running, walking and swimming

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“If you don’t look after your body, you may not be able to enjoy the freedom you get when your children leave home or you’ve retired,” says Sarah Lindsay, three-time Olympian and founder of Roar Fitness. “The stronger you are, the more your fitness improves and, thinking of longevity, the more you’ll be able to do when you’re older.”

“The UK government recommends adults build up to 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each week, or 75 minutes’ vigorous intensity, to get the maximum health benefits,” says Dr Lowe. If this sounds like a lot at first, don’t panic. You could well be getting more physical activity in a week than you think, as it doesn’t necessarily mean a long laborious run around the streets or an hour sweating it out in the gym.

Moderate-intensity exercise includes brisk walking, housework and mowing the lawn. “It’s important to remember that if you aren’t currently very active, then any small increase in activity levels really helps,” adds Dr Lowe. “A really good start is to think about your current level and then think about how you can weave a bit more activity into your day.” Just having the best running shoes for women or best women’s walking shoes as well as the best walking socks to keep you comfortable can make a big difference to how many steps you take each day.

Public health advice also recommends strength exercises at least twice a week. These should work all your major muscles, including the hips, legs, back, arms and abdomen. You can do this by lifting weights, working with resistance bandsor even gardening!

What counts as exercise?

“Any activity, sport or exercise is good!” says Sarah. “As long as you give yourself time to recover and you feel well, do as much as you want. Build it into your daily life. You’ll feel better for doing it, it will give you energy and a sense of achievement, and if you do it first thing, you’re more likely to make healthier decisions for the day.”

“Being active can take many forms and it’s important to do something that you love,” says Dr Lowe. “New habits won’t stick if you don’t enjoy the activity. It doesn’t mean going to the gym – just building a brisk walk into your day is a great start.”

“Don’t be intimidated by the term ‘moderate physical intensity’. It just means you should be working hard enough to feel a bit warm and you should notice that you’re breathing a little harder,” says Dr Lowe. “A helpful rule of thumb is that if you can talk but not sing, then you’ve got it right! So, if you already do a daily dog walk, for example, you could put a spring in your step; speed it up a bit. You’ll get much greater health benefits by doing so.”

“To get your heart rate up, a brisk or power walk will give you a cardio workout without the potential impact injuries from jogging or running,” says Sarah. “Also, as many people start jogging or running without being taught how, it’s worth seeing a personal trainer first.”

Am I too old to exercise?

“Because we tend to get less active as we get older, many people think that exercise needs to be gentle as we age,” says Dr Lowe. “The reality is, exercise is more important than ever in later life, so we need to continue to build activity into our day, every day.”

Try a range of different activities to keep things interesting and work more muscles. “As we get older, it becomes increasingly important that we do regular strength and balance exercises, ideally building in some resistance work two to three times a week,” says Dr Lowe. “These help to avoid falls and frailty. This might feel like a long way off for many people, but maintaining strength through middle life is an important factor in healthy ageing. Again, this can be integrated into your day – doing heel raises while you are waiting for the kettle to boil, some yoga stretches or tai chi in the garden, or holding a squat position while you brush your teeth.”

“One of the most important things for seniors is to be able to have a great quality of life and to be able to maintain their independence,” explains fitness expert and bestselling author Wendy Ida. “As we age, mobility and difficulties with balance occur and falls are the most common cause of injury-related death in people over 75. If we don’t continue to exercise our bodies, the mind also starts to decay like a bad tooth. Although it may be difficult for some to start a fitness routine, I guarantee that all of your hard work will pay off in the long run.”

Wendy recommends easy exercises to do at home. “Start with chair squats. They strengthen the lower body, including the glutes, hamstrings and quads. And there’s an additional fun perk that comes along with this training: If you’re consistent, you can build some sexy muscles in those legs.“

How much exercise per week should I do?

According to the NHS, "one minute of vigorous activity provides the same health benefits as two minutes of moderate activity". Aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity OR 75 minutes a week of vigorous intensity OR several short sessions of very vigorous intensity OR a combination.

For more advice on how to get started, visit Get Active Your Way.Remember to consult your doctor before starting any new workout regimen. Start slow and build from there.

150 minutes a week: Moderate physical intensity

  • Brisk walking
  • Carry moderate loads
  • Cycling
  • Dancing
  • Doubles tennis
  • Heavy gardening and mowing the lawn
  • Hiking
  • Housework
  • Swimming and aqua aerobics

75 minutes a week: Vigorous physical intensity

  • Aerobics
  • Carrying heavy loads
  • Competitive sports such as football, netball and hockey
  • Fast cycling
  • Fast swimming
  • Jogging
  • Running
  • Skipping
  • Walking briskly uphill
  • Circuit training
  • HIIT workouts
  • Lifting heavy weights
  • Running up hills and stairs
  • Spinning classes

Twice a week, include: Strengthening and balancing exercises

  • Aerobic exercise, such as circuits
  • Ball games
  • Carrying heavy shopping
  • Gym or weights
  • Lifting and carrying children
  • Lifting weights
  • Racquet sports such as tennis and squash
  • Tai chi
  • Using resistance bands
  • Wheeling a wheelchair
  • Yoga and pilates

So, which exercises will you be doing this week?

Faye M Smith

Faye M Smith is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years experience in the magazine industry. Her continued work in the area of natural health won her the coveted title of theHealth Food Manufacturers’ Association (HFMA) Journalist of the Year Award 2021. 

Currently Acting Health Editor across several brands including woman&home, Woman and Woman’s Own, Faye specialises in writing about mental health, the menopause, and sex and relationships. In fact, having previously been the go-to sex columnist for Now magazine, there isn't much she won't discuss when it comes to women's health. This makes her the best person to review must-buy sex toys, describe how to have a mind-blowing orgasm or explain how to navigate sex in the shower without it ending in a medical emergency. 

While not anti-gym, Faye’s fitness routine is more focussed on finding inner balance rather than burning excess calories. An advocate of mindfulness, she loves power breathing, yoga and plenty of walking in nearby woodlands rather than a sweaty HIIT class. Follow her @fayetuned