How inactivity affects your health (and what you can do about it)

Physical activity is defined as body movement that expends energy and raises the heart rate. And while many of us realise the importance of staying active to keep healthy, some aren’t getting the exercise their bodies need.

According to a report from Public Health England (PHE) entitled Everybody active, every day, almost one in two women and a third of men in England are not active enough to stay in good health.

Physical activity is the fourth largest cause of ill health and disability in the UK, with inactivity defined as having less than 30 minutes physical activity a week. The report suggests that more than one in four women and one in five men are classed as inactive.

The problem doesn’t just affect adults either. According to PHE just 21 per cent of boys and 16 per cent of girls aged 5 – 15 achieve the recommended levels of physical activity.

So how does inactivity affect our health? Here’s what the report says:

  • Physical inactivity is strongly linked with obesity. With more than half of adults and almost a quarter of children overweight or obese, everyone would benefit from being more active every day as it helps to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Being active can reduce your risk of developing diabetes by 30 – 40 per cent. People with diabetes can also reduce their need for medication and the risk of complications by being more active.
  • Persuading inactive people to become more active could prevent one in 10 cases of stroke and heart disease in the UK.
  • Being active every day may reduce women’s risk of breast cancer by up to 20 per cent and also improve the lives of those living with cancer.
  • Staying active reduces the risk of vascular dementia and also have a positive impact on non-vascular dementia.
  • Being active is also important for mental health – inactive people have three times the rate of moderate to severe depression of active people.

How to be more active

The more active you are, the more your health will benefit. Even some activity is helpful – according to the report, there’s a three-year difference in life expectancy between people who are inactive and people who are minimally active.

Most of us have busy lives, so being active every daymay be more about moving more during the normal course of our day rather than trying to make time for going to the gym or exercise classes. This means doing activities such as leaving the car at home and taking short trips on foot or by bicycle. Heavy housework and gardening count as beneficial activities too, as does any other type of manual work.

And if we can find time to play sport or take part in another active leisure pursuit that we enjoy, that’s even better (dancing, for example, can be as beneficial as going to the gym, the report suggests).

It’s also worth remembering that physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous to be effective. In fact just doing 10 minutes of activity that gets your heart rate up has a health benefit. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week – that’s the equivalent of 30 minutes on at least five days of the week. Or if you do like your exercise to be more vigorous, you can get the same benefits by doing 75 minutes a week.

There are lots of things you can do – read our Tips to get you walking more and How to be more active every day to get started.

Your local Careway pharmacist can also suggest ways you can be more active. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.