Types of exercise

The word ‘exercise’ means different things to different people. Throughout this website we talk about different types and intensities of exercise, here’s our explanation of what we mean.

Exercise falls into 5 main categories:


Aerobic exercise is the kind that makes you breathe harder and builds your fitness up. This is the type of exercise we all tend to think of when we hear the word exercise, and often it is the thought of being out of breath and sweaty that puts people off starting to exercise. It is very beneficial and even at moderate intensity will improve your health. You can get the benefits of aerobic exercise from a brisk walk or a steady cycle ride.

Strength building

From the age of 30, people can lose up to eight per cent of their muscle strength every decade. By the time people reach 80, they have the potential to lose 40 per cent of muscle strength. Some exercise specifically helps you build muscle. We’re not talking about weight training in the gym here (although obviously that does the job too). Lots of activities including pilates, physiotherapy type exercise and other fairly low intensity activities help you build muscle. Anything that works your muscles will do, as long as you do the activity for long enough.

Balance Training

Some exercise helps improve your balance by helping you build up core strength. This is especially helpful for people who are at risk of falls, including the elderly, but it is good for everyone. Examples of activities that help with balance include Tai Chi, dance and playing bowls, but there are many others. Here is a very useful video that gives 6 simple exercises will help balance and prevent falls.


You can improve your endurance by doing an activity for increasing periods of time. For example if you can only walk for 10 minutes without needing to rest you can improve your endurance by walking as far as you can several times a day, and increasing how far you go over time. The increases can be small, if you walk for 10 minutes several times a day soon you’ll find you can walk for 15 minutes, then 20 minutes …


Flexibility is really important and much overlooked when people think about exercise. Staying flexible improves your quality of life, imagine not being able to look over your shoulder to reverse your car. If you sit for long periods of time each day you’ll notice that your flexibility decreases. Stretches (see the Physiotherapy postcards on easy stretches and exercises to do if you sit all day), yoga, tai chi, pilates and lots of other exercise classes will all help improve flexibility. Flexibility training can also improve balance, which is good news for all of us as we get older.

Exercise can be done at different levels of intensity, that is how hard you work.

Moderate intensity exercise

We refer to moderate exercise as any activity that increases your breathing rate slightly and makes you a bit warmer and your heart beat slightly faster. You don’t have to be out of breath, you should still be able to have a conversation, but you should be aware of breathing a bit faster or harder than normal.

There are many kinds of activity that fit this description, walking at a steady pace, cycling, dancing, swimming (ok, in your average swimming pool you might not feel warmer, but you know what we mean), and lots of exercise classes and routines.

Vigorous exercise

Vigorous or high intensity exercise is the kind that gets you sweaty and out of breath, for example running or playing sport.

If you are doing moderate or high intensity exercise it’s worth warming up and cooling down properly. This can include a slower walk or some stretches.

It is easy to be put off by the thought that the only kind of exercise that is good for you is the vigorous kind, but this is not true – moderate intensity exercise and low impact exercise (yoga etc) are all good for you too.