Moderate exercise for 150 minutes a week improves overall health, says HSE

New guidelines from HSE encompass physical activity for very young children for first time

Moderate exercise for two hours and 30 minutes a week improves overall health, according to new guidelines published by the HSE.

The new National Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Ireland were unveiled by the HSE on Tuesday, bringing Ireland in line with recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO) on physical activity.

Speaking at the event, Prof Breda Smyth, chief medical officer at the Department of Health, said she hoped to “encourage people of all ages around the country to prioritise their health and wellbeing by increasing their levels of physical activity”.

Key updates in the guidelines include that physical activity at moderate to vigorous levels can be accumulated across the week, replacing sedentary time with physical activity of any intensity, including light intensity, and an emphasis on including muscle-strengthening activity every week.


For the first time in Ireland, there are guidelines for sedentary behaviour and physical activity guidelines for very young children.

Previous research has found only 23 per cent of primary and 12 per cent of post primary students are meeting recommended physical activity guidelines in Ireland.

Most adults in Ireland spend at least five hours a day in sedentary activity, and less than half of adults (46 per cent) in Ireland are meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines.

“The benefits of regular physical activity, at moderate to vigorous levels, for our overall health are immense. It improves our heart health, reduces risk of developing cancer and chronic diseases such as type-2 diabetes, and can improve our mood and sleep,” Ms Smyth said.

“In adults, higher levels of sedentary behaviour are associated with cardiovascular disease, cancer and type-2 diabetes,” she said.

Sedentary behaviour would include most desk-based work, driving a car, and watching television or other screen time activities.

“Replacing this sedentary time, where possible, with activity, even light intensity activity – essentially moving more everyday – is also strongly advised to protect health,” Prof Smyth said.

New recommendations from the HSE for each age group include physical activity several times a day, particularly through floor-based play for infants less than a year old, and for infants not to be secured for more than an hour at a time in prams and strollers.

Children aged one to two years should spend at least three hours in a variety of physical activities at any intensity, spread throughout the day, according to the guidelines.

Children aged three to four should spend at least three hours in a variety of physical activities at any intensity, of which at least one hour is moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day.

Children and adolescents aged five to 17 years, including those living with a disability, should do at least an average of one hour per day of moderate to vigorous intensity, mostly aerobic, physical activity, across the week.

Additional activities that strengthen muscle and bones, should be incorporated at least three days a week for those aged five to 17, according to the guidelines.

For some young people with certain disabilities, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, a “reduced level of physical activity may be adequate to attain significant health benefits”, considering their higher energy cost of physical activity, the guidelines say.

Adults aged 18 to 64 years, and aged 65 and over, including those living with a disability, require at least two hours and 30 minutes to five hours of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity a week, or at least one hour and 15 minutes to two hours and 30 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week.

Muscle-strengthening activities at moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups were also recommended on two or more days a week.

As part of their weekly physical activity, older adults (aged 65 and over) and older adults living with a disability should do varied multicomponent physical activity that emphasises functional balance and strength training on three or more days a week, to enhance strength and capacity and to prevent falls, the HSE said.

Limiting sedentary activity was also a key recommendation across all age groups.

Screen time was a very common type of sedentary activity, particularly screen time for young children and adolescents.

More information on the new recommendations is available on the HSE’s website.

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson

Jade Wilson is a reporter for The Irish Times