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29 Feb

Mental Health can be improved by exercises to strengthen your muscles, such as carrying heavy shopping or intensive gardening, according to official health guidelines.

The UK’s Chief Medical Officer has urged adults to incorporate the activities into their routines to help cut their risk of diabetes, heart disease and mental health conditions.

The recommendations are contained within the NHS’s new physical activity guidelines, which have been updated for the first time since 2011.

Dame Sally Davies believes that adults who meet the target of at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week – including muscle strengthening on two days – can reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes by 40 per cent, heart disease by 35 per cent and depression by 30 per cent.

Muscle-strengthening activities could also include carrying small children, brisk vacuuming or climbing several flights of stairs, or more proactive exercises such as yoga, pilates or press-ups.

The guidelines aim to improve strength in the main muscle groups, which starts to decline after the age of 50. Building strength and balance has been shown to reduce the risk of falls and bone thinning in later life.

In addition, the advice urges pregnant women and new mothers to do the same amount of exercise as other adults, and for babies to be given at least 30 minutes of ‘tummy time’ a day, which includes semi-crawling and pulling themselves.

Meanwhile, over-65s are being encouraged to take up bowls, dancing or tai chi – a Chinese martial art – that are less strenuous ways of maintaining strength and balance.

The previous guidelines stated that adults should do 150 minutes of exercise a week, ideally in sessions of at least ten minutes on most days of the week.

But the new advice is more flexible and suggests that doing one or two longer bursts – such as at the weekend – is just as beneficial. The latest figures show that only 62 per cent of adults are meeting the existing recommendations, just 58 per cent of women and 66 per cent of men.

Dame Sally, who will step down as Chief Medical Officer at the end of the month, stressed that there is no need to join an expensive gym to meet the new requirements.

She said: “The ideal is to build exercise into your day. Instead of catching the lift a floor or two, walk up, carry your shopping, get off the bus a few stops early, see what you can do in your normal life so it’s not a burden ‘ She urged adults to avoid sitting down for longer than two hours at a time, especially when at work. While this is not in the official recommendations, she said there was growing evidence that prolonged sedentary periods increase the risk of heart disease.

Caroline Abrahams, from Age UK, said: “There is overwhelming evidence about the benefits of keeping active no matter what your age or slate of health and the new guidance echoes what Age UK’s own research shows. The important thing to remember is it’s never too late to start, even if that means just taking gradual steps towards moving more on a daily basis.’

The guidelines single out the benefits of High Intensity Interval Training, an increasingly popular form of exercise which involves sprinting or cycling very fast for short periods of time. They suggest adults can get away with doing less than 75 minutes of exercise a week if they do very vigorous activity.
The advice does not specie how much time adults should spend on muscle-strengthening exercises however, which may cause confusion. They state that muscles should feel ‘temporarily tired out’ and “unable to repeat the exercise until rested for a short period’.

Two thirds of adults in England are currently overweight (64 per cent), including 29 per cent who are clinically obese. More worryingly, levels of diabetes, are at their highest on record. Some 4.7million people are estimated to have the illness in the UK, of whom 90 per cent have type 2, which is linked to obesity.

Exercise to Boost Mental Health

• Adults should do muscle-strengthening exercises on at least two days a week including lifting heavy shopping or going up several flights of stairs

• Pregnant women and new mothers should aim to do 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, the same as all adults

• The over-65s should try activities such as bowls and tai chi if they feel less able to do traditional exercise

• All adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity a week such as jogging or swimming – as under the 2011 guidelines.

• They will still see benefits by exercising one or two longer sessions a week, rather than every day

• Adults also meet the guidelines by doing 75 minutes of intense activity a week such as a run or a fast cycle

• Muscle-strengthening exercises should be carried out so that muscles feel ‘temporarily tired out’ by the end

• Babies should do 30 minutes of ‘tummy time’ a day including pushing and pulling themselves

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