exercise guidelines

The Exercise Guidelines Explained

We all know that we should exercise, and we all know that exercise is beneficial for both managing and preventing chronic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer, Osteoporosis, Hypertension, Metabolic Syndrome and Mental Health problems (just to name a few).

However, many people don’t know what the exercise guidelines mean:

  • What type of exercise we should do?
  • How much exercise we should do?
  • Where to start?

To answer these questions, I’m going to spend a bit of time breaking down the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines.

Before we get started, it’s important to note that these exercise guidelines have been developed for the general population. If you have a specific conditions or goal then the guidelines may not be appropriate for you, so make sure you consult an Accredited Exercise Physiologist.

  1. Moving a little is better than not moving at all

It’s good to acknowledge that we don’t all have to be Olympic athletes and exercise for hours on end every day! That’s not what this whole exercise thing is about. Even small increases in the amount of exercise you perform can have great benefits for your health and well being. So, for those people who are completely new to this whole exercise thing… My suggestion? Find opportunities throughout the day to fit in physical activity. You may like to suggest going for a walking meeting at work, you may like to start using the sit-stand desk or maybe you could even send your printing to the downstairs printer to increase your steps!

  1. Exercise on most, if not all, days of the week

It’s important that we ensure we are making time for exercise every day. Whilst it’s may be much easier to find time for exercise on the weekends, regular exercise throughout the week is important for improving health and wellbeing. My suggestion? Plan your exercise out a week in advance and schedule it into your diary. Don’t forget to plan a wet weather option too!

  1. Accumulate 150 – 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 – 150 minutes of vigorous exercise, or combination of the two, each week

Okay, so now we get to the meaty part of the guidelines. What should we actually be doing? To completely understand the above guideline, there are a few things you need to know:

  • Firstly, this guideline is referring to aerobic exercise – i.e. any continuous exercise that makes your breathing increase. For example, walking, swimming, cycling and dancing. My suggestion? Mix your exercise up throughout the week to improve your motivation!
  • Secondly, we need to make sure we are accumulating our exercise throughout the week! For example, whilst going for a 3 hour hike on the weekend may accumulate a 180 minutes of exercise, this does not mean you don’t have to exercise for the rest of the week (remember guideline number 2!). My suggestion? Aim for 30-60 minutes every day, that way if you miss a day or two, you are still reaching the minimum guideline and you’re spreading your exercise out over the week.
  • Thirdly, you do not have to complete all of your day’s exercise in one go! I can hear the sigh of relief from all of those time poor people out there! Exercising in bouts as small as 10 minutes is also effective in improving your health and wellbeing. My suggestion for the time poor folk? Aim for a 10-20 minute brisk walk before or after work, and then a 10-20 minute brisk walk during your lunch break.


A note on exercise intensity…

Understanding exercise intensity is important. A quick way to test your exercise intensity is using the talk test. When exercising I can…

  • Talk comfortably and sing comfortably – you’re probably at a light intensity
  • Talk comfortably but not sing – this is likely to be moderate intensity exercise
  • Neither talk nor sign comfortably – you’re working hard at a vigorous/high intensity


The bottom line…

Walk, swim, cycle, jog, dance (you name it!) every day, for at least 30 minutes!

  1. Do muscle strengthening exercise at least 2 days per week

The final piece of the of the puzzle is ensuring you are performing some type of strength exercise. Also known as resistance exercise, this is important for all men and women, young and old! A few tips to consider…

  • There are many different ways we can perform strength exercise. For example, holding onto weights (e.g. dumbbells), pushing or pulling loads (e.g. resistance bands, machines) or exercises as simple as moving your own body weight (e.g. squats, lunges). My suggestion? For those people who are new to strength training, begin with light weights, bands or body weight exercises and always seek guidance when try a new exercise! You might like to join a local gym or have a strength program written for you by your local Exercise Physiologist.


  • Understanding the lingo is crucial in being able to understand how much of each exercise you should do:
    • A ‘repetition’ is one single movement.
    • A ‘set’ is a certain number of repetitions performed in sequence.

Many strength programs are written using sets and repetitions – e.g. 3 x 12 squats means 3 sets (or lots of) of 12 repetitions of squats!

  • There are many different resistance protocols out there depending on if you want to increase your endurance, your power, your muscle size etc. My suggestion? Aim for 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions for each exercise you do and always make sure you target all of your major muscle groups including your lower body, upper body and core!


I know that for many people, the exercise guidelines can seem overwhelming and unattainable! Remember that the guidelines are your goal to aim toward; you don’t need to go from zero to hero in one day!


Safe participation in exercise is about gradually increasing the amount of exercise you do and slowly working toward reaching the guidelines. So, where to start? Maybe you need a break from all this reading – why not start right now by heading out for a 10 minute walk?