Silhouette of children playing behind an orange umbrella

Everything in moderation?

What do we need to do to be healthy?

It’s easy to say that moderate exercise must be good for everybody, but one emerging idea is that the best way to keep healthy is to lead an active lifestyle (using the stairs, walking more, and so on) and to top this up with short bursts of intense exercise. A completely sedentary lifestyle is dangerous but not necessarily the same as a life lacking a formal exercise regime.

If the most simple definition of fitness is staying alive for longer, the benefits of staying active are pretty clear. An active lifestyle cuts the risks of heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. It can also help you combat obesity if you don’t eat more calories than you burn off. Reducing obesity, in turn, reduces your risk of cancer and diabetes and results in stronger bones.

How do we know what we should do to be healthy? Often, guidelines are based on epidemiological data, gained by observing large populations. Some researchers argue that interventional studies – where specific treatments or behaviours are applied and tested – will give us all a firmer idea of what really works to keep us healthy.

NHS guidelines for physical activities

Under 5s

Children who can walk alone should be physically active for at least 180 minutes every day.

Ages 5–18

At least 60 minutes of mixed moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and muscle- and bone-strengthening activities, every day. Three days a week, these activities should include exercises for strong muscles (resistance based), and strong bones (jumping, running around). 

19 and over

At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week and muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week and muscle- strengthening activities on two or more days a week or a mixture of both.

Classification of activities

  • Moderate-intensity aerobic: cycling, fast walking, skateboarding, mowing the lawn
  • Vigorous-intensity aerobic: running, football, hockey, skipping, martial arts
  • Muscle-strengthening: press-ups, weightlifting using all major muscle groups

Lead image:

Sanshoot/Flickr CC BY NC ND


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Exercise, Energy and Movement’ in January 2012 and reviewed and updated in August 2016.

Physiology, Psychology, Health, infection and disease
Exercise, Energy and Movement
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development