Exercise for healthy living

Physical activity is important for good health and wellbeing, and has social and emotional benefits. To get the most benefits, you should engage in a range of activities, performed at different levels.

Moderate activity is activity that increases the heart rate, such as brisk walking, but doesn't make you 'huff and puff'. When doing moderate exercise you can continue to talk, but not sing.

Vigorous activity is activity that results in significant increase in heart and breathing rate. For example, jogging, high-impact aerobic exercise, or cycling uphill.

The same activity can be performed at different levels of intensity. For example, cycling slowly is a moderate activity, while cycling over 20 kilometres per hour or uphill is considered vigorous.

Weight bearing activity is activity where you have to support your own weight or lift weights, such as walking, running or dancing.

Resistance training, also called strength training or weight training, is the use of resistance to build strong muscles. Examples of resistance training include using free weights, weight machines, resistance bands or your own body weight, for example squats or push-ups.

You can be physically active in a variety of settings, including the workplace, home, garden, schools, parks, or more specific-purpose facilities like fitness centres and sports stadiums.

Benefits of physical activity

Physical activity can help reduce the risk of:

  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • having a second heart attack in people who have already had one
  • developing high blood pressure
  • developing type 2 diabetes.

Regular physical activity can help to:

  • achieve and keep a healthy body weight
  • lower both total blood cholesterol and triglycerides, and increase good cholesterol, known as HDL
  • reduce blood pressure if you already have high blood pressure, known as hypertension
  • reduce the risk of developing colon cancer and possibly other cancers
  • reduce feelings of stress, anxiety and depression
  • build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints
  • keep older adults physically strong and better able to move about without falling or becoming too tired.

Recommended activity: children and young people

Children and young people aged 5 to 17 years should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity every day.

It should include a variety of aerobic activities, including some vigorous intensity activity. It should also include activities that strengthen bones and muscles at least three days a week, such as skipping, running, hopping or jumping.

For extra health benefits, children and young people should do more activity - up to several hours a day.

Children and young people should minimise the time they spend being sedentary every day.

They should limit the use of electronic media for entertainment, such as television, seated games and computers to two hours a day and break up long periods of sitting for as long as possible.

Tips for children to be more active

You don't need to do your exercise in one go.

You can spend 10 minutes walking to school, 20 minutes playing basketball or soccer at lunchtime, 10 minutes walking home from school and 20 minutes walking or running with your friends or your dog after school.

Be active throughout the day in lots of little ways - walk or ride your bike to school, to the shops or to your friends' places.

If you don't like sports, do other activities with your friends, like walking, jogging, skating, riding your bike, playing beach volleyball, badminton or frisbee.

Try something you have never done before, like Capoiera, yoga or hip-hop dancing.

Recommended activity: adults 18 to 64 years old

Doing any physical activity is better than none. If you currently do no activity, start by doing some and gradually build up to the recommended amounts.

You should be active on most, preferably all, days every week.

Each week, you should accumulate:

  • 2.5 to five hours of moderate intensity physical activity
  • or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous intensity physical activity
  • or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activity.

You should also do muscle strengthening activities on at least two days each week, such as lifting and carrying, digging in the garden, or body weight exercises like push ups, squats or lunges.

You should minimise the time you spend in prolonged sitting, and break up long periods of sitting as often as possible.

Recommended activity: over 65 years old

If you are over 65, you should do some form of physical activity, no matter what your age, weight, health problems or ability.

You should be active every day in as many ways as possible, doing a range of activities that incorporate fitness, strength, balance and flexibility.

You should do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, preferably all, days.

If you have stopped physical activity or are starting a new physical activity you should start at a level that is easily manageable and gradually build up.

If you have been active during your life you should continue to carry on your activities to your capability in later life, provided you follow safety procedures and guidelines.

Tips for being more active

You don't have to spend money to be active and it's never too late to start.

You should choose an activity you enjoy as you are more likely to keep it up.

To be more active you can:

  • try different activities for different benefits - walking, cycling, water aerobics, line dancing, yoga, belly dancing
  • exercise with friends - it's easier to stay committed and more fun
  • walk or ride to the shop instead of driving
  • get a step counter (pedometer) to increase your daily goal
  • walk your dog every day, or just walk every day
  • park your car further away and walk
  • get off the bus one stop earlier
  • take the stairs instead of the lift
  • join a sport or recreation club or sign-up for a corporate event
  • spend a couple of hours gardening at least once a week.

To find out how to be more active at work go to healthy workplaces.

Active living in the NT

Go to the following support services to find out about living an active life in the Northern Territory (NT).

The Department of Sport and Recreation website has information on sport programs, recreation development and events.

To find healthy active lifestyle choices in your region in the NT, go to the following websites:

For more information about levels of exercise and the types of physical activity you should do, go to the frequently asked questions page on the Australian Government Department of Health website.

Last updated: 28 November 2017