Lying on your sofa after a day on your feet operating or lifting obese pets can seem appealing, but the evidence for the benefits of physical activity is compelling.

Regular physical activity (30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on at least 5 days a week) can reduce the risk and help to manage over 20 chronic conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity, mental health problems and musculoskeletal conditions. Even small increases in physical activity are associated with some protection against chronic diseases and an improved quality of life. Benefits of physical activity can also extend beyond health, improving workplace productivity (WHO, 2010; Chief Medical Officers, 2011.)

Chief Medical Officers’ recommendations

  • Aim to be active daily
  • Aim for a weekly total of at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more. This is activity that leads to faster breathing, increased heart rate and feeling warmer. It could include walking at 3–4 mph, and household tasks such as vacuum cleaning or mowing the lawn
  • Or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity. This is activity that leads to very hard breathing, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat and should leave a person unable to maintain a conversation comfortably. It could include running at 6–8 mph, cycling at 12–14 mph or swimming slow crawl
  • Or combinations of moderate and vigorous intensity activity
  • Also undertake physical activity to improve muscle strength on at least 2 days a week
  • Minimise the amount of time spent sitting for extended periods

Exercise and mental health

Physical activity can have a positive effect on wellbeing and mood and provide a sense of achievement, relaxation and release from daily stress.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists recommend that activity for mental health should:

  • Be enjoyable
  • Help you to feel more competent, or capable
  • Give you a sense of control over your life
  • Help you to escape for a while from the pressures of life
  • Be shared. The companionship can be as important as the physical activity

Exercising with depressive symptoms

Physical activity has a significant effect reducing depressive symptoms across a range of mental health conditions, but when exercise does not feel achievable the Royal College of Psychiatrists recommend setting SMART goals to gradually increase physical activity.

Sacrifices and Barriers to Exercise

Common obstacles to exercising in the veterinary profession are:

  • a lack of time
  • poor access to safe exercise when working long hours on call
  • sacrificing physical activity to prioritise study at vet school

How employers can help

The NICE guidelines on physical activity in the workplace (2008) include:

  • flexible working policies and incentive schemes
  • policies to encourage employees to walk, cycle or use other modes of transport involving physical activity (to travel to and from work and as part of their working day)
  • the dissemination of information (including written information) on how to be more physically active and on the health benefits of such activity. This could include information on local opportunities to be physically active (both within and outside the workplace) tailored to meet specific needs, for example, the needs of shift workers
  • ongoing advice and support to help people plan how they are going to increase their levels of physical activity
  • the offer of a confidential, independent health check, administered by a suitably qualified practitioner and focused on physical activity

Some tips to increase physical activity

  • Buy a pedometer or wearable tech to measure activity through the day
  • Check what’s available for free in your area – Parkrun offer free weekly 5K timed runs, currently at 379 locations around the UK
  • Take the stairs
  • Stand up – consider standing desks, stand up while talking on the phone
  • Walk – try turning meetings with others in the practice into a short walk
  • Find a sport you love
  • Get up an hour earlier to exercise if there is no time in your schedule later in the day