NHS research estimates that currently only 40% of men and 28% of women meet the minimum UK exercise recommendations, and according to the World Health Organisation physical inactivity is not only one of the leading causes of death and obesity, it is also has a significant link to an increased rate of depression.
For adults, the recommended amount is 2.5 hours of moderate activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more (so a daily 30 minutes at least 5 days a week). Generally speaking, guidelines suggest that the overall amount of activity is more important than the type, intensity or frequency.
When we talk about "physical activity" this includes all forms of activity, such as cycling to work, dancing, working out in a gym, or competitive sport - even gardening counts. Regular physical activity can reduce the risk of chronic conditions including coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, mental health problems and musculoskeletal conditions. It can also help prevent osteoporosis especially in women and helps reduce high blood pressure. In addition, recent research has found that too much time sitting down is a leading contributor to weight gain. With an increasing number of people leading sedentary lifestyle - for example office workers - the UK has never been more at risk of obesity.
Whilst many people know the positive effects of exercise, there can often be a number of barriers, which prevent them from being active, and these often tend to be more psychological than physical. Many people have negative memories of school PE lessons or perhaps they feel guilty about spending years paying for gym memberships they have hardly used.
Is it time to challenge some of these stories we tell ourselves and widen our attitude to being active?
Let's challenge some common objections:
"I just don't have time to exercise"
The Government's 2004 report on physical activity says that, "for most people, the easiest and most acceptable forms of physical activity are those that can be incorporated into everyday life", so typical example of this would be walking or cycling to and from destinations rather than driving. At the beginning of the week, take a look at your weekly plan and how to restructure your week to incorporate as much of your 150 minutes of physical activity into your routine as possible. It may be walking part way of the way to work three days a week, taking a lunchtime swim once a week, getting up early to go to the gym twice a week and putting aside Saturday mornings for a family activity such as a bike ride or trail walk.
"I hate going to the gym". "I can't afford to join a gym".
Don't enjoy the gym? Then experiment to find something you DO enjoy, whether that's joining a local sports team, getting out in the fresh air for a jog, or even taking part in a local yoga class. Or if you prefer something more gentle, buy a pedometer (most models are less than £25 or are included as a free app on some smartphones) and aim for at least 5000 steps a day or hit the gold standard of a daily 10,000. Most importantly, don't compare yourself to others - always remember that everyone is different. Set your own goals to beat and record your improvements. All you need for a successful active lifestyle are a pair of trainers and an open positive attitude.
"Exercise just makes me hungrier"
This may be true at first, as exercising not only raises how many calories we burn during our workout, but it can also continue to burn calories for up to 1-2 days after exercising. However, as you gain lean muscle mass this will increase your metabolism and you will find you are less hungry over time. Often women are hungry as they eat insufficient protein, so it's a good idea to ensure you are including lots or protein rich food in your diet such as eggs, tofu, lean meats, beans and pulses, or perhaps a protein shake after a particularly strenuous workout.
"If I exercise, my legs are so sore I can hardly walk two days later!"
It is very common to experience sore muscles if you are just getting back to exercise. This can happen during the first and seconds session, and the discomfort usually at its worst two days later. However, this is perfectly normal and healthy and usually will pass by day three. One way to reduce this effect is to ensure that you are warming up properly, stretching after you have cooled down, and you could use Epsom salts in the bath, which is a great natural way to ease tension. However, don't let it put you off your next activity session - once you get through the first 5-10 minutes and get your blood 'pumping' again, the stiffness should ease. The most important thing is to keep up the regular activity. Your body adapts positively so undue soreness should only be experienced for a short time.
So, are you ready to commit to being more active?
Here is our action checklist:
Get the medical all clear from your GP if you are going to significantly increase your activity level or have a family history of cardiovascular disease or stroke. Don't let this be an excuse not to get started however - if you are at risk, start slowly and increase the amount you walk in the meantime.
Set an achievable activity goal. Schedule what you need to do to meet those goals. Detail the sessions as much as possible in your diary with specifics on what you need to pack for work, when your exercise will start and when you are going to review the success of your workout plan.
Having support can be key to success so don't be afraid to ask for help. Declare your intentions to as many people as possible and ask for their encouragement. Read motivational magazines, books and the health section of newspapers to get tips and ideas. There are plenty of free online fitness and health resources, so if you do your research and you'll find a lot of extremely helpful advice.
When measuring your success, take your focus off weight and BMI as this can often not paint an entirely accurate picture, since everyone's body is different. Instead, go for waist measurements or even keeping a track of how you're feeling emotionally and physically. You could even choose a specific item of clothing you would like to get into that is currently too small.
Bring your attention to what is truly important to you. Stick up post-its around the house or your workspace to remind you of what truly matters to you, and be inspired!