THE importance of exercise has long been known and advocated by health professionals, but the extent to which it can be a “miracle cure” is being reinforced in new official activity guidelines.

The guidance is new?

It’s updated. In 2011, the UK was among the first country in the world to set out exercise guidelines and this is the latest version, based on up-to-date scientific research. The next report will be in 2029.

Who is it compiled by?

The UK’s Chief Medical Officers - England’s Professor Dame Sally Davies; Wales's Dr Frank Atherton; Northern Ireland's Dr Michael McBride and Scotland's Dr Catherine Calderwood.
They say that the “evidence has become more compelling and the message is clear - if physical activity were a drug, we would refer to it as a miracle cure, due to the great many illnesses it can prevent and help treat”.

So what exactly is the advice?

An overall reminder that regular exercise can have a "protective effect" on coronary heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, mental health problems and social isolation. It's broken down into different age groups, but adults aged 19 to 64 are told to aim to be physically active every day, with the top tip that "Any activity is better than none, and more is better still".

Anything specific advised?

Adults are advised to undertake activities to develop or maintain strength in the major muscle groups - which could include heavy gardening, carrying heavy shopping, or resistance exercise; as well as around 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity - such as brisk walking or cycling - or 75 minutes of a vigorous intensity activity, such as running.

What about other age groups?

Older adults - over-65 - are advised to work on trying to improve or maintain muscle strength, balance and flexibility on at least two days a week - perhaps mixing sporting activities, such as Tai Chi, dance and aqua-aerobics.

Infants are included?

Under-5s have various guidelines, with parents of infants not yet crawling advised to give them 30 minutes of tummy time a day, while 180 minutes of active play a day is recommended for toddlers.

There’s new advice for mothers and mothers-to-be?

Pregnant women should aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise weekly, although the advice is "don't bump the bump". Muscle strengthening activities are recommended twice weekly, while new mums are advised to build up to the 150 minutes and muscle strengthening - as well as starting daily pelvic floor exercises as soon as possible.

Even small changes will make a difference?

The CMOs state: “Our environment can make it difficult to be healthy and our health is being damaged by inactivity. But the good news is that even small changes can make a big difference over time, such as using the stairs for a couple of floors rather than taking the lift or getting off the bus a stop early and walking the rest of the way.”