Physical activity

Sit less and move more every day to improve your heart health. Find out how much physical activity you need to do each week, and what counts.

In this article

Physical activity includes any type of movement you do. From walking to cleaning the house or gardening, the more you move the better.

Benefits

Any physical activity you do will improve your heart health, and your overall health. Being more active will:

  • help your heart
  • improve your sleep
  • help your mental health
  • reduce stress
  • manage your blood pressure
  • manage your weight.

Sit less

The more time you spend sitting, the worse it is for your heart health.

If you can break up long periods of sitting and replace it with any type of physical activity whenever you can, it will help your heart.

How to sit less

  • Get off the bus or train a stop earlier.
  • Park further away from work, the shops or when dropping the kids off at school.
  • At work, try to move about more. You could visit a colleague instead of sending an email or have a standing meeting. 
  • Plan movement when you usually sit down, like going for a walk in the evening. 

What counts

Any type of movement helps to break up time you may spend sitting. It all counts towards physical activity. Take any opportunity to move your body and aim to be physically active every day.

Here are some examples of activities you could do.

Light activity

Light-intensity activity won't cause a noticeable change in your breathing, and you'll be able to do it for a long time.

It may include:

  • hanging out the washing
  • housework like cooking, ironing and washing dishes 
  • slow walking.

Moderate activity

Moderate-intensity activity makes you feel warmer, breathe harder and your heart beat faster.

It may include:

  • brisk walking
  • carrying shopping
  • household jobs like cleaning, vacuuming or mopping
  • gardening
  • yoga
  • organised sports
  • cycling
  • dancing
  • weight training
  • swimming.

Vigorous

Vigorous-intensity activity is the most intense. When you do it, you won't be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath.

It may include:

  • jogging
  • spin classes
  • high intensity interval training (HIIT)
  • aerobics.

How much

Try to do at least 2.5 hours (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. Moderate-intensity activity makes you breathe harder than normal but still able to talk. Or you can try to do 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week. Vigorous-intensity activity makes it hard to say more than a few words.

Every minute counts. If you do more physical activity than this, it's even better for your heart health.

150 minutes moderate-intensity physical activity

Moderate-intensity activity should make you breathe harder than normal.

This could be:

  • 10 minutes vacuuming, 20 minutes of dancing, 60 minutes of gardening and 60 minutes of walking across one week
  • 2 minutes of climbing stairs, 10-minute walk around the block and 10 minutes of cleaning everyday
  • a 30-minute walk on 5 days of the week.

75 minutes vigorous intensity physical activity

When you do vigorous physical activity, it's hard to say more than a few words.

This could include:

  • a 20-minute run on four days of the week
  • a 40-minute exercise class like HIIT on two days of the week.

If you have a heart condition, or other medical condition

Talk with your doctor before you start to do more physical activity. Ask them for advice on the type of activity you could do, and how much you should do.

Gradually build your activity levels with the aim of doing at least 2.5 hours (150 minutes) of physical activity each week that makes you breathe harder, but you should still be able to talk. Any progress will improve your heart health.

Ask your doctor about exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation programmes or the Green Prescription programme for supervised exercise (where available). 

Visit our directory to find your nearest heart support group.

How to start

It's never too late to start. Everyone benefits by sitting less and moving more. The good news is that people who don't do anything have the most to gain and your health will improve as you start to move. 

Getting started is easier than you think. Changing a few daily habits will soon add up to a more active you. Be active in as many ways as possible every day. 

And if you don’t think you can squeeze anything else into your day, see if you can reduce the time that you spend sitting and free up time to be active.

Start small

Block out time in your day even if it's just a walk to the shops. You can then build up gradually.

Set a realistic goal

If you're new to exercise, set a goal of 5-10 minutes a day and build up slowly.

Find an activity you enjoy

There are lots of different activities that count from dancing, gardening, walking and swimming. It's an opportunity to try something new. 

Ask family or a friend to join you

Build activity into meeting with friends like going for a walk or a hike.

Stay safe

Know your limits and stop if you feel any pain or discomfort.

Build up

Gradually increase the amount you do. Go for a little longer or a little further.

Remember

If you haven't been active for some time, start with small amounts of light activity and gradually increase the number of days and the length of time you're active. 

Over time you'll be surprised at how quickly your body gets used to physical activity. As your fitness increases you may be able to be active for longer or be able to add in ways to make it harder (like adding in hills when you're walking).

Stay safe

It's important to stay safe particularly if you haven't been active for some time.

  • Speak to your doctor, especially if you're new to exercise or haven't exercised in a while.
  • Warm-up and cool down.
  • Stretch afterwards to prevent injuries.
  • Wear comfortable clothing and appropriate footwear.
  • Build activity slowly.
  • Listen to your body.
  • Avoid exercise if you feel unwell.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Stop exercising if you feel any pain or discomfort.

Exercise or physical activity?

Exercise and physical activity are both good for your health.

The difference is exercise is planned and more structured. If you go to the gym three times a week, or regularly jog or go to a fitness class, this is exercise and a type of physical activity.

The movements that happen throughout your day, like walking to your car or to the shops, are less structured. These types of movement are physical activity.

Heart Foundation recommendations

Based on the findings from our 'Physical activity, sedentary behaviour and heart health' position statement, everything we can do to sit less and move more is associated with better heart health outcomes.

Read our full Physical activity and sedentary behaviour position statement.

Read the position statementMore information about being active