Physical activity is great for mood swings, stress and anxiety - and exercising with others also boosts our physical, mental and emotional wellbeingPhysical activity seems to be a hot topic lately on many of the blogs, newsletters and groups I follow.

It’s great for managing mood swings, stress and anxiety because it increases endorphins, our feel-good hormones, helps keep cortisol, the stress hormone, under control, and can improve sleep. It also helps us retain muscle mass and manage weight gain as we get older.

Plus, if you exercise with your partner, family or friends you’re boosting your wellbeing through social connections. Connecting with others is incredibly good for our physical, emotional and mental health and has been associated with a 50 percent increase in longevity!

And a new study of 70,000 women found that women who walk seven hours a week had a 14 percent lower risk of breast cancer, and those who are more active, such as running or swimming six hours per week, can slash their breast cancer risk by 25 percent (statistics via Dr Sara Gottfried, MD, yoga teacher and hormone specialist).

They all sound like great reasons to get moving (if you need one), but how much is enough?

The Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines recommend we do some activity every day, aiming for a total of 2.5 – 5 hours of moderate intensity activity or 1.25 – 2.5 hours of vigorous intensity activity each week (as well as some muscle strengthening exercise). The great news is that you don’t have to do it all at once; in fact, small amounts throughout the day, so that you’re not sitting for hours at at time, is best.

If you’re time poor (and who isn’t?!) – and you’ve been given the OK from your GP, you might want to consider High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) where you intersperse short bursts of intense activity (20-30 seconds) with “rest” periods of lesser intensity activity (anywhere from 10 to 90 seconds depending on the program you follow) over a few minutes, three to four times a week.

HIIT is a very time-efficient way of improving your aerobic fitness and insulin sensitivity (your body’s ability to cope with sugar) – and many women find it really helps reduce menopausal weight gain.

If you’d like to find out more about HIIT take a look at Dr Michael Mosely’s Fast Exercise, Dr Joe Mercola’s interval training 101 and these three quick workouts for beginners in the Huffington Post. But please make sure your doctor has given you the thumbs up for this kind of activity, especially if you’re unfit, overweight, or have a history of heart disease, stroke or diabetes.

Three action points

  1. If you haven’t been active in a while, get the all-clear from your GP – and start slowly.
  2. Choose activities you enjoy and are likely to stick with, whether that’s HIIT, running, dancing, yoga, barre, swimming, zumba, walking, pole dancing, indoor rock climbing, cycling, or team sports – whatever you fancy! And mix it up so that you don’t get bored and you’re working different muscle groups.
  3. Set and commit to SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-lined) goals; for example, “I will do a 6.30pm zumba class on Mondays, walk the dog every morning before work for 30 minutes and cycle with friends for an hour on on Saturday afternoons”