Updated CMO Physical Activity Guidelines

UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity Guidelines – Updated

This report was published on the 7th September 2019 and is an update to the 2011 physical activity guidelines. The new guidelines use new evidence that recognises the importance of activity every day and in participating in a range of activities, there is more emphasis on the importance of strength and balance activities and additional guidance for pre and post-natal and disabled adults.

Here is a summary of the main points relevant to fitness instructors working with adults and special populations.

Strength training and functional activity

It is recommended that more emphasis should be put on strength training throughout life. The report highlights the importance of strengthening activities for all ages, noting in particular that it is important to maintain strength for physical function and delaying sarcopenia and the decline in bone density in adults and older adults.

Older adults (65 years and older) should aim to maintain or improve function by including muscle strengthening, balance and flexibility exercise on at least two days a week.

Frailer older adults are recommended to embed strength and balance exercise into everyday life such as sit to stand and stair climbing.

All population groups are recommended to do muscle strengthening activities twice a week including pre and post-natal and disabled adults.

General activity and cardiovascular exercise

There is more emphasis on general activity and minimising sedentary time and prolonged periods of inactivity. The report also recognises that light intensity physical activity is associated with many health benefits and the guidelines (150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of high intensity) can be a barrier to people who have low fitness levels and may put them off starting an exercise programme. This was also true for disabled adults and pregnant and postnatal women and so the statement that ‘some is good, more is better’ which was previously included in the physical activity guidelines for older adults has now been incorporated into the new guidelines for all adults.

The evidence for fitness gains from HIIT (high intensity interval training) has been recognised for adults and the option added into the guidelines. There is limited evidence at the moment for HIIT training with older adults.

Lastly, the way in which exercise can be broken down into shorter sessions has been revised and the report reflects evidence that there is no minimum amount of physical activity required to gain health benefits and the 150 minutes recommended can be made up of sessions of any length. The previous guideline for a minimum of a 10-minute bout of exercise has been removed and the statement ‘every minute counts’ is included.

The guidelines for exercise during and after pregnancy are much the same with vigorous activity not recommended for previous inactive pregnant women. Post-natal women can gradually build up intensity from moderate to vigorous if appropriate after the 6 – 8 week check.

It is recommended that older adults who are already active combine moderate and vigorous activity for greater health benefits.

For frailer older adults any reduction in sedentary behavior and increase in the volume and frequency of light activities is recommended and the focus should be on increasing duration rather than intensity in activities such as walking.

For the full report and info graphics go to:


Make sure you spend a bit of time making yourself aware of these new guidelines so you can continue to educate clients.


Author: Helen Tosdevin

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