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Five steps towards a more active and energetic you

Be more active

1) Starting small

Even the most inactive among us can improve our energy levels, muscle strength and basic fitness level by incorporating a few minutes of physical activity into each day or, alternatively, for 30 minutes – 1 hour a few times each week. The NHS recommends that adults should aim to carry out 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise – such as swimming, cycling or intensive housework - each week.  Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise is any activity which makes the body work hard enough to raise your heart rate and cause you to begin sweating.

After a few weeks of maintaining a baseline activity level, try upping your game to include more robust activities, such as a sport that you enjoyed years ago but never quite got around to taking up again, or by joining a fitness class or a gym where you should be able to consult with a personal trainer.

Fitting in more physical activity doesn’t have to equate to an expensive gym membership, however. It could include walking the dog more often or for longer, hiring a bicycle at the weekend for a day cycling with friends, swimming once a week with the kids and even rigorous housework that gets your blood pumping. Vacuuming the house from top to bottom, giving all of your windows a good wash and buff, weeding and mowing the lawn, painting and decorating or digging out some new flowerbeds in the garden all count as physical activity. When you’ve completed your own household tasks, you may even wish to consider offering an elderly neighbour or relative a hand to complete some of their more strenuous chores – beneficial for both parties!

Remember, the key is increasing your heart rate and breaking a sweat – which works to improve cardiovascular health, core strength, stamina and improve your level of fitness. A good way to test if you are working hard enough: if you can speak the words to your favourite song while doing your activity but don’t have the breath to sing them, then you’re doing something right!

2) Don’t run before you can walk

It may sound obvious, but walking really is a great way to get your body moving, your blood pumping and keep your bones and your muscles strong and healthy. Best of all, it’s free, provides fresh air and sunlight, is suitable for all ages and fitness levels and could even save you money if you regularly walk instead of relying on a car or public transport. It may even help you burn off some of those extra pounds that have been hanging around since Christmas.

According to NHS Choices, the average person walks between 3,000 and 4,000 steps a day. To find out your average, you may wish to consider buying a pedometer (a device worn on the waist or arm which measures each step you take), which can cost as little as a few pounds. If you work out your average after a week or so, then you have a daily target to smash. If you’d like to find places to explore on foot in your locality or find local ramblers groups to join some guided walks in your local area, visit British charity the Ramblers website and pop in your postcode.

According to Change4Life, regular walking can cut your risk of developing cardiovascular disease in half, reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and can also boost your immune system. In addition to physical benefits, regular walking can also be beneficial to mental and emotional wellbeing. For those who lead a very busy lifestyle, walking to and from work could afford you some valuable time to reflect on the day ahead or the day behind you, provide space to wind down, de-stress and carry out some mental planning – all essential elements of good wellbeing.

3) Get up, stand up

Technological advancement has led to a rise in sedentary lifestyles which can largely be attributed to the increase in jobs that involve sitting down for much of the day, coupled with TV or computer-based leisure activities. A sedentary lifestyle has been found to contribute significantly to a person’s risk of obesity and by extension, an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and many cancers.

Sedentary work – our advice on how to keep moving even when sitting down:
  • Use the stairs in your building as opposed to the lift wherever possible.
  • Employ some at-desk stretches a few times a day to keep muscles from becoming stiff - ignore the snorts of laughter from adjacent colleagues.
  • Take regular screen breaks to stretch your legs and maintain good circulation. For example, while it may make sense time-wise to combine a walk to the printer with a trip to the loo and popping into the kitchen area to fetch a drink on the way back, try to space these activities throughout the day to keep your body moving and to give your eyes and mind a short break.
  • Whether you commute to work by bus, train or car – try parking further away or getting off the bus a stop early to squeeze in a few extra minutes of much-needed exercise, sunlight and fresh air.

4) Run, baby, run

Another physical activity which has undergone somewhat of a revival is good old fashioned running. Immensely popular in the late 1970s and into the ‘80s, running seems to be gaining in popularity again in recent years, perhaps due in part to the fact that it is free and can be done almost anywhere. Regular running can reduce your risk of developing various physical health conditions, help to keep your weight in check and has even been found to protect against mental ill-health.

NHS Choices has produced a free downloadable 9-week Couch to 5K running programme – designed to help absolute beginners ease themselves into regular running. The plan involves three runs per week, starting with a combination of walking and short bursts of running, designed to gradually increase stamina and fitness in a realistic and achievable way. While five kilometres may sound like a long way, if right now running for the bus leaves you red-faced and out of breath, towards the end of the programme, most people should be able to manage to run the whole distance in around half an hour.

There are even free apps available to provide easy step-by-step instructions on your smartphone, a choice of celebrity trainers to pick from to keep things interesting and some real-life success stories to help to keep you motivated. Developed in association with Public Health England and the BBC’s Get Inspired, the app is available to download for free on iTunes here and Google Play here.

To find out more about the programme, visit Couch to 5K. If you are currently very inactive, take a look at NHS Choices’ running tips for beginners.

5) Tired parents - still need more motivation?

If you can’t do it for you, do it for them! According to Change4Life, children should spend an hour each day doing physical activity – which gets their heart rate up and circulatory system moving. While children of school age may spend their break-times haring about the playground and playing sport during regular PE lessons, younger children also need to get out and about every day if possible – a walk to the shops, an hour or two at soft play or even out in the garden, weather permitting - to build the strength and stamina which will stand them in good stead for life.

And, while you’re concentrating on making sure your children get some exercise, you may find you benefit from the extra activity too.

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