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Nordic walking

Major health benefits seen from strengthening and balancing activity throughout life

New evidence review supports current UK Chief Medical Officers’ guidance of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity as well as strength exercises on two or more days a week.

Muscle and bone strengthening and balance activity can improve physical and wellbeing at any age and prevent falls responsible for around 95% of all hip fractures, costing the NHS over £1 billion per year.

A Public Health England and the Centre for Ageing Better commissioned evidence review has found that muscle and bone strengthening and balance activities continue to have great health benefits for all adults, including older adults aged 65 years and over.

In older adults, poor muscle strength increases the risk of a fall by 76% and those who have already had a fall are three times more likely to fall again. Strengthening and balance activities not only help to prevent this, but also help improve your mood, sleeping patterns, increase your energy levels, and reduce the risk of an early death.

Activities found to have the most benefit for muscle and bone strengthening include:

  • Ball games
  • Racket sports
  • Dance
  • Nordic walking
  • Resistance training (usually training with weights, but including body weight exercises which can be performed anywhere)

Muscle and bone strengthening and balance activities for general health benefits: in adults and older adults

Read the report

The review underlines the importance of the UK CMOs’ guidance that all adults need to undertake strengthening and balance activities suitable for them at least twice per week in order to maintain and improve health.

Strength and balance activities can also help improve health during difficult or life-changing times like pregnancy, menopause, onset of or diagnosis of disease, retirement and recovery from hospitalisation.

For those at risk of falls or fracture, supervised structured exercise is also recommended at a pace that suits the individual to help maintain independence and support healthy ageing.

Dr Alison Tedstone, head of diet, obesity and physical activity at PHE, said:

“Alongside aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, all adults should be aiming to do strengthening and balancing activities twice per week. On average we’re all living longer and this mixture of physical activities will help us stay well in our youth and remain independent as we age.”

Dr Zoe Williams, physical activity champion for PHE, said:

“Being active isn’t just about getting your heart pumping – although this is a good way to begin. Strength and balance activities work in conjunction with cardio activities like brisk walking, and come with a range of health benefits throughout your life - it’s never too late to start.”

Jess Kuehne, Senior Engagement Manager, Centre for Ageing Better added:

“It’s clear that we need to give equal weighting to activities that boost muscle and bone strength and improve balance rather than simply focusing on aerobic exercise.

“There is significant potential to make savings to health and social care services if we do more to promote muscle strengthening and balance activities and recognise their role in helping to keep people healthy and independent for longer, particularly as they age.”

Keeping physically active

Current statistics show that falls are responsible for around 95% of all hip fractures, costing the NHS over £1 billion per year.

For employers and the economy, musculoskeletal health conditions are the second most common cause of sickness absence in the UK, accounting for 30.8 million days lost in work.

By building on aerobic activities like brisk walking, strengthening and balance activities such as dancing or tennis can help adults to prevent these health problems and enjoy ageing well.

Keeping physically active

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