How much exercise do you need to do to gain genuine health benefits? 

“It’s a moving target. Would you believe as little as five to ten minutes a day?” asks Dr Linda Steyn, President of the South African Society of Physiotherapy (SASP). During National Physiotherapy BackWeek ([insert date]), the SASP has been encouraging people to exercise more.

“More and more research is piling up that shows that you really don’t have to sweat it out for hours in the gym to reap serious and long-term health benefits,” Dr Steyn explains. “In July, for example, a paper published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiologists1 concluded that all you need to do is run for just five to ten minutes a day – and at slow speeds, too, less than ten kilometres an hour – and this is associated with a marked reduction in deaths from both cardiovascular disease and all other causes.”

In fact, anything that gets you out of your seat and moving your body could boost your health. In April this year, a study showed that older adults who simply engaged in light activities such as doing their own housework were less likely to be disabled by osteoarthritis than those who spent more of their time sitting2.

Obviously working a little harder – for example doing 30 minutes daily of an activity that leaves you a little breathless3 – increases your overall fitness, but interestingly, if you push into the high-intensity bracket, benefits such as weight loss don’t increase as much as you’d expect4. Evidently the body prefers a particular range of exercise intensity.

Chair of the SASP’s Sports Physiotherapy Special Interest Group, Ria Oberholzer, says that those who are just starting to incorporate exercise into their lives should remember, “Rome was not built in a day – build up your programme slowly, adding no more than 10% per week. This will help prevent overuse injuries.”

She says people should be aware that discomfort or stiffness after starting an exercise programme is normal, but pain persisting for more than two hours after a session is not. “Rest the affected area and seek medical attention if it does not subside within two days.”

Consult a physiotherapist before starting any exercise programme to get an assessment of any musculoskeletal problems you might have, from sports injuries to the aftermath of a car accident to the onset of arthritis. You can find your nearest physiotherapist by calling the SASP Head Office on (011) 615 3170.



1.      Leisure-Time Running Reduces All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality Risk Duck-chul Lee et al J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;64(5):472-481. doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2014.04.058


  • Relation of physical activity time to incident disability in community dwelling adults with or at risk of knee arthritis: prospective cohort study, D. D. Dunlop et al BMJ, 2014; 348 (apr28 6): g2472 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.g2472


  • Can physical activity prevent physical and cognitive decline in postmenopausal women?Debra Anderson, Charlotte Seib, Laura Rasmussen. Maturitas, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2014.06.010


  • Body fat loss and compensatory mechanisms in response to different doses of aerobic exercise–a randomized controlled trial in overweight sedentary males, Rosenkilde M et al, Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2012 Sep 15;303(6):R571-9. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00141.2012. Epub 2012 Aug 1.

Issued by Americo Pinheiro on behalf of

The South African Society of Physiotherapy