Chapter 1 - The UK Physical Activity Guidelines
This summary of the guidelines is drawn from the 2011 updated Chief Medical Officer's (CMO) UK Physical Activity Guidelines supporting documents,1, 2 and the British Association of Sport and Exercise Scientists consensus report 3.
The UK Physical Activity Guidelines advice for adults (aged 19-65) recommend:
Aim to be active daily. Activity should add up to over 150 minutes per week by participating in at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on 5 or more days a week, or in multiple bouts of 10 minutes or more.
Comparable benefits can be achieved through vigorous activity of 75 minutes a week, or in a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.
Adults should also undertake physical activity to improve muscle strength on at least two days a week.
All adults should minimize extended sedentary (sitting) periods.
The dose-response relationship between physical activity and health is clear across all ages and there are therefore guidelines for all ages of life. The main differences are summarized below.
UK Guidelines for under-fives not yet walking
Physical activity should be encouraged from birth, particularly through floor based play and water based activities in safe environments. All under 5s should minimise the time spent being sedentary (restrained or sitting) for extended periods (except sleeping).
UK Guidelines for under-fives capable of walking
180 minutes (three hours) – each day, once a child is able to walk. For non-walkers, physical activity should be encouraged from birth, particularly through floor based play and water based activities in safe environments.
- Download Factsheet 2: Physical activity for early years (under-fives) children capable of walking
- Download Birth to 5 years infographic here
UK Guidelines for children and young people (5-18 year olds)
There is a greater emphasis on encouraging at least 60 minutes a day and up to several hours every day of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity. Three days a week should include vigorous intensity activities that strengthen muscle and bone. This age group should also minimize the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods.
- Download Factsheet 3: Children and young people (5-18 years)
- Download Children and young people infographic here
UK Guidelines for older people (65+)
150 minutes (two and half hours) – each week of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity (and adults should aim to do some physical activity every day). Muscle strengthening activity should also be included twice a week. Any individual at risk of falling should incorporate activity to improve balance and coordination on at least two days a week. All adults should also minimize the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods.
Depending on body weight, 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity will expend about 800-1200 kcal. 3 For most health outcomes, additional benefits occur as the amount of physical activity increases via increased intensity, frequency and or duration
The CMO infographic for pregnant woman
This is to help health professionals explain the benefits of activity during pregnancy during consultations with pregnant women.
Download the infographic here
Assessment of present levels of activity
In most consultations with patients, opportunities arise where the subject of physical activity may be used for prevention or treatment of disease. Assessing a baseline of activity is recommended to either raise the issue of physical activity, measure progress or help shape any subsequent advice. There are many assessment questionnaires available and two commonly used are:
- The UK General Practice Physical Activity Questionnaire (GPPAQ)4 can be used to categorize patients into recommended levels of activity
- The Scottish Physical Activity question (The Scot-PASQ’).5 A brief assessment using just 3 questions. Used as a motivational screening tool to help raise the issue of physical activity and deliver advice
Read the brief guidance on how to use the Scot-PASQ tool.
Accurate coding of activity for computer systems that correlate with the CMO guidelines and Scot-PASQ.
|Question 1||In the past week, on how many days have you been physically active for a total of 30 minutes or more? Physical activity may include walking and cycling, getting to and from places, gardening, exercise or sport which lasts more than 10 minutes|
|>30 minutes 5 times a week
<30 minutes 5 times a week
|Question 2||If four days or less, have you been physically active for at least two and a half hours (150 minutes) over the course of the past week?|
|>150 minutes per week
<150 minutes per week
|Question 3||If less than 150 minutes activity a week then ask ‘are you interested in being more physically active?’|
|Brief intervention offered
Brief intervention completed
Brief intervention follow up
Brief intervention declined
The evidence of the health benefits of physical activity
The UK guidelines were drawn up to promote physical activity because of the overwhelming evidence of the health benefits. The following 17 chapters present the evidence of the main health benefits in brief key messages for health professionals. This evidence summary is drawn from the 2011 updated UK Physical Activity Guidelines supporting documents,1, 2 the British Association of Sport and Exercise Scientists consensus report 3 and large scale reviews from USA, 4 Canada,5 Sweden, 6 and Denmark ,7 which have used major systemic reviews, meta-analysis and consensus statements to reach their conclusions.
Terms used on this website
Physical activity is defined as any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. It may be done as part of playing, working, active transportation, house chores and recreational activities.
Exercise is a subcategory of physical activity that is planned, structured, repetitive and purposeful in the sense that the improvement or maintenance of one or more components of physical fitness is the objective.
Sedentary behaviour refers to any waking activity characterised by an energy expenditure ≤ 1.5 metabolic equivalents and a sitting or reclining posture. In general, this means that any time a person is sitting or lying down, they are engaging in sedentary behaviour. Common sedentary behaviours include TV viewing, video game playing, computer screen time, driving and reading.1
Moderate intensity physical activity causes adults to feel warmer, breathe harder and the heart to beat faster, with brisk walking being the easiest example to recognise.
Vigorous intensity physical activity causes adults to get warm quickly, breathe much harder, perspire and find it difficult to maintain a conversation.
Key message: physical activity is an important part of the lifestyle for any patient because of the overwhelming evidence of the health benefits at all ages. It can increase their quality of life and lead to better health outcomes.
- Auditing your patients to see if they have been offered any physical activity advice.
- Advising on diagnosis of the importance of this lifestyle approach for their own well-being.
Benefits to health professionals: reduced drug costs, appointments and visits.
Signpost patients to: the public website Benefit from Activity containing this information
Updated September 2019
Chapter 1 - The UK Physical Activities Guidelines - Factsheet - download