What happens to your body if you fail to exercise for 150 minutes a week

Physical activity man on bike. (Getty Images)
Physical activity can often be incorporated into your daily life. (Getty Images)

A recent Lancet study revealed more than half of the adult Indian population doesn't meet the World Health Organization's (WHO) guidelines of 150 minutes exercise per week, while experts have warned physical inactivity is "a silent threat to global health" due to nearly one third of the world's adult population not meeting the recommendation.

With our NHS guidelines the same as the WHO – to do at least 150 minutes of 'moderate-intensity activity' a week or at least 75 minutes of 'vigorous-intensity activity' a week – how much of a cause for concern is it really if we don't reach this?

Here we consult Dr. Lawrence Cunningham, retired GP and medical contributing expert at UK Care Guide, and Sarah Campus, PT and founder of LDN MUMS FITNESS, about the potential impact on your body.

Close-up of a doctor examining a patient on a hospital
Living a fairly sedentary lifestyle? It may be time to get those steps in. (Getty Images)

"In my experience, not meeting the WHO recommendation of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week can have an effect on our health," confirms Dr. Cunningham.

"One of the most immediate consequences is an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Without regular exercise, the heart and blood vessels can become less efficient, leading to higher blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Over time, this can escalate into serious conditions like heart attacks or strokes.

"Additionally, a sedentary lifestyle often leads to weight gain and obesity, which are precursors to a host of other health issues, such as Type 2 diabetes."

And from Dr. Cunningham's observations, people who don't engage in regular physical activity also have weaker immune systems, making them more susceptible to infections and illnesses.

Campus agrees with the risks to our physical health, while also reminding us it can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression.

One mid adult woman having a joint pain due to osteoporosis
For women, physical inactivity may affect bone density. (Getty Images)

"In my experience, the consequences of insufficient physical activity can be different for men and women," says Dr. Cunningham.

"For men, a lack of exercise often leads to decreased muscle mass and strength, which can affect their overall physical performance and increase the risk of injuries as they age. Men are also more prone to the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

"For women, insufficient physical activity can exacerbate issues related to bone density, making them more susceptible to osteoporosis and fractures."

So, now we know how important the 150 minutes really is (if you're able), what exactly is 'moderate- intensity activity', or 'vigorous-intensity activity' if you'd rather do the 75 minutes? You can also do an equivalent combination of both.

A low angle view of a young woman mowing the lawn with a mower, the grass glowing a vibrant green.  Horizontal with copy space.
From brisk walking to mowing the lawn, you can make physical activity work for you. (Getty Images)

The good news is 150 minutes of this type of exercise isn't as hard to achieve as you might think. Lots of it is easy to incorporate into your daily life, if you've found yourself becoming more sedentary (as we've seen a rise in in recent years).

"Moderate-intensity physical activities are those that raise your heart rate and make you breathe faster but still allow you to hold a conversation," explains Dr Cunningham, whose examples, alongside Campus', include:

  • Brisk walking

  • Dancing

  • Gardening

  • Cycling at a pace of less than 10 miles per hour

  • Swimming

  • Double tennis

  • Water aerobics

  • Mowing the lawn

"These activities are accessible to most people," says Dr. Cunningham, with Campus adding, "Moderate-intensity activities are those that get you moving fast enough or strenuously enough to burn off three to six times as much energy per minute as you do when you are sitting quietly."

Active men jogging outdoors on blue cloudy sky with copy space. Two athletic guys or young sports friends running together, doing their routine cardio workout and fitness exercise in the city
Every little counts, but this is more intense exercise. (Getty Images)

"Vigorous-intensity activities, on the other hand, are those that significantly increase your heart rate and make it difficult to speak in full sentences without pausing for breath," says Dr. Cunningham, with a combination of the expert's examples including:

  • Running

  • Cycling at a pace of more than 10 miles per hour

  • Swimming laps

  • Strength training

  • Aerobic dancing

"These activities are excellent for improving cardiovascular health and increasing endurance," says the doctor.

Watch: How to keep your children active over the summer