Getting started with physical activity

Being active, like healthy eating, requires some thought each day and should be a regular part of everyday life no matter what age you are. Every little effort adds up to making a real difference to health and wellbeing. The best way to get started is to find an activity or sport that you enjoy, is convenient and affordable.

If you have children, try taking up an activity that you can enjoy as a family or change your routine and walk to school instead of driving. Get friends to join you as they will provide company and motivation. If you plan to meet a friend you are more likely to go ahead with the activity.

Incorporate as much incidental activity into your day as you can. For example, park the car further away than usual from work to get some extra walking in. Week by week, set goals and challenge yourself to build up your physical activity levels.

Remember to be SunSmart when being physically active outdoors.

For the greatest health benefit enjoy a variety of different types of activities, including:

  • Aerobic activity (cardiovascular) uses large muscle groups and results in an increased heart rate. Aerobic exercise improves heart and lung function. To get the most from aerobic activity, it needs to be of sufficient intensity, frequent and of adequate duration. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every day. As you get fitter, try to increase this to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity or 30 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity every day. If you're doing moderate-intensity activity you'll be able to comfortably chat, but you won't be able to sing more than a few words without running out of breath. During vigorous-intensity physical activity you won't be able to say more than a few words without having to pause to breathe.
  • Resistance activity (strength) increases muscle strength, function, endurance and bone strength. Resistance exercises should be performed at least 2 times a week, on non-consecutive days. Complete 1-4 sets of 8-10 different exercises each session. Choose exercises that target the major muscles of the arms, legs and body. Each set should include 8-12 repetitions of the movement. It is important to perform the correct technique to avoid injury and rest for 60-90 seconds between sets.
  • Flexibility (stretches) lengthens muscles and tendons and improves flexibility and strength of joints and muscles. Include stretches before and after activity and/or on their own 3-4 times a week. It is important to stretch the major muscles of the arms, legs and body. Hold stretches for 15-30 seconds.

Ways to be active

  • Active transport: using physical activity as transport (e.g. by foot or bicycle) to get from one destination to another. Use of public transport is also included if it involves walking or cycling to pick-up and drop-off points.
  • Incidental activity: when physical activity is done as part of your daily routine. It is usually spontaneous and convenient (e.g. taking the stairs instead of the lift).
  • Planned activity: when you set out to be active such as meeting a friend for a walk, going for a swim at the local pool or cycling around the river.
  • Organised sport: by enrolling in sports such as tennis, football, netball or swimming you make a commitment to attend. As well as the physical benefits, organised sport is a great way to meet new friends and helps to develop teamwork skills.

Tips to be more active

  • Take the dog for regular walks
  • Consider different activities such as playing golf, badminton or tai-chi
  • Do gardening or vigorous housework
  • While watching television, do stretching exercises
  • Join a fitness centre near your work, and work out before or after work while you avoid rush hour traffic
  • Get off the bus one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way
  • Start a walking group with work colleagues during your lunch break
  • Go and talk to your colleagues instead of calling or sending an email
  • Track your steps with a pedometer - aim for at least 10,000 steps each day!
  • Try different walking locations to keep it interesting
  • Train for an event, such as Run for a Reason. This is great for motivation!

Do I need to see my doctor before starting an exercise program?

  • If you are well and do not have any medical concerns or questions and plan to be physically active at moderate-intensity for 30 minutes, you do not need to consult with your doctor before beginning
  • If you have any cardiovascular symptoms (e.g. chest pain) or a history of cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, diabetes, other active chronic disease, any medical concern or you are pregnant, you should consult your doctor before increasing the intensity or duration of your activity
  • If you have any doubts or concerns at all about starting or increasing your activity levels you should consult your doctor