Tips to increase physical activity

Physical activity is a wonder drug. It’s good for reducing your risk of major illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and strokes by an incredible 50%. It also helps us feel better, not just physically, but mentally too.

However, many of us have got lives which are jam-packed with commitments ranging from long hours at work, to dependent children at home. How can we increase our physical activity in simple ways without trying to run ourselves even more ragged?

The simplest and easiest way to increase physical activity is to make small changes to your everyday life.

Start with the home and family

Therefore, it makes sense to start at home and get the whole family involved. Act as each other’s motivational buddies. Some ideas you may like to try:

• Go for a weekend walk: Make family time a time to both unwind and get a physical boost. Go for a brisk walk in the woods and maybe introduce a game of chase or hide-and-seek if you need to keep children interested. We’ve got lots of ideas on where you can go for a lovely walk here.

• Go for a bike ride: If you’ve not ridden a bike in a while, it can be daunting to start again. Take the whole family, along with a picnic, and suddenly it’s an enjoyable experience.

• Get a dog: If you’re considering a pet then a dog is a sure-fire way to encourage you all to be more active. From ‘fetch’ games to walks, whatever the weather, a dog is a great motivator for exercise.

• Swap the car wash for home cleaning: Instead of rocking up to the car wash and parting with your cash, have some fun cleaning the car at home instead.

• Get spring cleaning: Housework is great for getting active with an added benefit – a clean house.

• Take up gardening: Gardening, including planting, weeding and mowing the lawn can burn 250-300 calories an hour or more!

• Park the car further away: If you must park on the street anyway, why not park a few streets away?

• Use your TV time: TV time needn’t be spent slouched on the couch. Use a treadmill, rowing machine, exercise bike or simply do some stretches or basic yoga poses whilst watching your favourite show.

• Get the kids physical: Encourage physical play with your children. Let them climb on you. Join them as they jump in a puddle. Bop around the kitchen together to your favourite tunes.

Move on to changes in your work life

If you want to increase your physical activity, then you will likely need to look at your work life. As work takes up a large chunk of your day, incorporating small changes can make a real difference to the overall amount of activity you get. Try some of these suggestions:

• Ditch the lift: If you use a lift or escalator, it’s time to find the stairs. Without much effort at all, you’ll be getting your heart pumping a little harder and contributing to your overall fitness.

• Use your breaks: If you get a coffee break or lunch break use it wisely. Whether a quick chance for a walk with colleagues, or book an exercise class at a local gym, don’t waste the time you’ve got.

• Get others on board: Workplaces are a great place for finding like-minded others. There may be enough of you to form a five-a-side football team, or perhaps you’ll have luck creating a tennis group?

• Stand regularly: Sedentary roles can spell bad news for physical activity. However, simply by standing from time to time you can help improve all sorts of things, including back pain. Indeed, make it a habit when the phone rings to take the call whilst standing, or moving around.

• Change your commute: Whether you catch the bus or train, or jump in the car, stop a little further from work and walk the rest.

Bigger changes

These small incremental changes will make a huge difference to the amount of physical activity you’re getting. However, if you want to get more radical you can consider the following:

• Take up a new sport: You’re never too old to have a go. Take up a new team sport and you’ll find your commitment to your team outweighs the lack of motivation on down-days.

• Build in exercise time to your routine: Stop by the pool on your way home from work or go for a run when you first wake up. Build exercise in to your routine as a defined plan.

• Go dancing: Ditch dates of dinner and cinema, but instead go dancing, shopping, or perhaps to a museum.

• Join others: You’ll always feel more motivated if you’re exercising with others. Join or start a walking club for example.

• Set yourself goals: Set yourself exercise goals so that you are gradually increasing your stamina and fitness over time. A good starting point may be something like the NHS Couch to 5K programme which will see you gradually tackling a run.

The most important thing about increasing your physical activity is that you do what works best for you. Small changes are more sustainable as you gradually change habits. Also, always try to have fun!