Adults below exercise guidelines higher than previously thought

  • Date

    Thu 5 May 22

Woman on treadmill

The number of English adults who are meeting full national exercise guidelines is lower than assumed, a new University of Essex study has suggested.

The research revealed that those aged 19-64 are much less likely to take part in strength training –but most are doing sufficient amounts of aerobic activity like running and cycling.

Professor Gavin Sandercock, from the School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences, looked at data from over 250,000 adults who responded to Sport England’s Active Lives Survey.

The study published in PLOS One discovered that two thirds of Brits were hitting the target of 150 minutes of aerobic activity each week - but this figure, dropped dramatically when strength training was included.

Strength training – such as weight lifting, bodyweight exercise and fitness plans -  is vital to ensure fitness in later life as it helps build and maintain muscle strength and healthy bones.

Without it day-day activities such as gardening, shopping and climbing stairs become harder as the body ages.

Professor Sandercock said: “This study shines a light on the true picture of physical activity in the UK and that, while people are being active, not everyone is doing the best mix of activities to maintain or improve health.

“The worrying thing is people believed they were hitting the guidelines when they were so far off.

“According to the Active Lives Survey two thirds of adults met the physical activity guidelines, but that is only when we included any moderate-intensity activity – the most commonly reported was walking.

“While walking, cycling. and incidental activities such as heavy gardening are beneficial to health they are nowhere near as important as deliberate exercise like weight training.”

The research shows 69 per cent of men and 65 per cent of women got their blood pumping through aerobic exercise for the recommended two-and-a-half hours a week.

Professor Sandercock said this figure could be over-inflated because people tend to overestimate self-reported activity levels.

His team also calculated the rate of people who met aerobic exercise recommendations and also did at least 10 minutes of strengthening exercises twice a week.

They used three different definitions of strengthening exercises.

When using a Health Survey for England definition — which takes in 34 sports like golf, cricket and weightlifting includes— 29 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women met strengthening exercise requirements.

However, the researchers said there is “limited evidence” many of these activities can make muscle and bones stronger.

Under a separate stricter classification - which included running, football and weightlifting and seven other exercises - the rate fell to 16 per cent of men and nine per cent of women.

The figures fell even further when the most stringent measures were applied.

These guidelines only approve five exercises - weight training, circuit training, bodyweight exercise, yoga and weightlifting.

When used only 7.3 per cent of men and 4.1 per cent of women took part in strengthening activity.