Physical activity couple walking

Physical activity

As nurses we have a responsibility to not only share health information and signpost patients to appropriate services to support them in making lifestyle behaviour changes, but we owe it to ourselves to be role models for our patients and be in the best of health in order to carry out our nursing roles efficiently.

Physical activity is essential for good health, and those nurses who participate in physical activity are more likely to reap the benefits of good health such as lower sickness absence, increased loyalty to their workplace and better recruitment retention (NICE, 2008). 

We know that as a population we are far too inactive.

In order to maintain the good health of our nursing workforce, encouraging them to participate in activities such as cycling or walking to work and use modes of transport involving physical activity as well as providing low cost and fun exercise sessions in the workplace, will also ensure that they are adhering to the Chief Medical Officer's guidance for physical activity; see: Start active, stay active: infographics on physical activity.

There are a number of resources available for nurses to help increase their knowledge around how physical activity helps prevent as well as treat diseases associated with no or lower levels of exercise.

British Association of Sport & Exercise Medicine. Motivate2Move. This resource is endorsed by the RCGP to support health care practitioners with patients with a range of conditions. It offers supportive literature regarding those often challenging conversations with patients around improving their health by changing their exercise habits.


This series of RCN endorsed factsheets, have been created by Dr Brian Johnson and peer reviewed by the RCGP Physical Activity and Lifestyle team. They were made specifically for busy health professionals to provide all the information required to understand the health benefits of physical activity. Set out by disease areas, there are brief synopses of the scientific evidence, for prevention and management of conditions helped by physical activity. There are also further links into more reading, ideas for audit, key messages, NICE guidelines and further organisations who may be able to help: 

Physical Activity, Exercise and Immune Function [PDF]
2019 Physical Activity Guidelines [PDF]
Physical Activity and Cause Mortality [PDF]
Physical Activity and Cancer [PDF]
Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Health [PDF]
Physical Activity and Chronic Kidney Disease [PDF]
Physical Activity and Mental Health [PDF]
Physical Activity and Metabolic Health [PDF]
Physical Activity and Musculoskeletal Health [PDF]
Physical Activity and Neurological Disorders [PDF]
Physical Activity and Obesity [PDF]
Physical Activity and Pregnancy [PDF]
Physical Activity and Respiratory Disease [PDF]
Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour [PDF]
Sedentary Behavior and Musculoskeletal Disorders [PDF]
Physical Activity and Surgery [PDF]
Physical Activity and Motivation to Change Their Health Behaviour [PDF]
Physical Activity and Starting to Get Active [PDF]

Please see the Royal College of General Practitioner's website for the full Physical Activity and Lifestyle ToolKit.

Physical activity resources

Department of Health and Social Care (2019). Physical activity guidelines: UK Chief Medical Officers' report. A report from the Chief Medical Officers in the UK on the amount and type of physical activity people should be doing to improve their health.

Faculty of Sport & Exercise Medicine, Public Health England and Sport England. Moving Medicine. This website provides guidance for practitioners to support people with a range of conditions. The resources helps practitioners to ‘Prescribe activity’ and has factsheets for patients.

Public Health England (2014) Everybody active, every day. An active life is essential for physical and mental health and wellbeing. This report provides the evidence and support to promote physical activity at all levels and for all members of the population.

Benefit from activity. This resource includes advice on the importance of being more active. It features real life stories from a range of different people on how they managed to increase their physical activity levels, how they maintained it and the impact it has had on their lives.

Osteoporosis Society. About Exercise. This factsheet helps promote exercise and safe movement for those with osteoporosis, promote bone and muscle strength, provide help with balance and help people to take care of their back.

Other literature which supports the benefits of nurses being more physically active: 

NHS Employers Workplace Health (2015) Creating healthy workplaces: A toolkit for the NHS. This toolkit aims to support NHS organisations to improve the staff health, wellbeing, effectiveness and productivity by providing practical, step-by-step information on how to implement the six pieces of workplace guidance from NICE.

NICE (2019) Physical activity: encouraging activity in the community. This quality standard covers how local strategy, policy and planning and improvements to the built or natural physical environment such as public open spaces, workplaces and schools can encourage and support people of all ages and all abilities to be physically active and move more. 

PACE-UP. Increasing the levels and intensity of physical activity over the long term and lead to real health gains, see here for further information and access to resources to support implementing the programme in practice

Public Health England (2018) Physical activity: applying All Our Health. This guide will help front-line health and care staff use their trusted relationships with patients, families and communities to promote the benefits of physical activity. You can also visit the e-learning for health portal on All Our Health: Physical Activity. If you haven’t already done so you need to create an e-learning account. This is free of charge.

Blog - We Are Undefeatable campaign

The importance of nurses involvement with this campaign can't be over emphasised as talking to patients about their physical activity levels should be embedded into their everyday conversations.

Blog - Physical activity and lifestyle toolkit

Changing our own behaviour or supporting patients to change theirs, for the benefit of their health can be hard, but with increased knowledge at our fingertips it is made much easier.

Blog - Let's get physical

Many nurses would argue that they don’t have time or even energy to discuss physical activity with their patients. But Sport England with the Faculty of Sport and Exercise medicine, in conjunction with Public Health England (PHE) have gone a long way in almost “handing it to us on a plate” with their recent online Moving Medicine programme.

Factsheet about physical activity in relation to COVID-19

This new factsheet captures the physiology of the immune system and how being more physically active can potentially minimise the severity of COVID-19 if infected.

Page last updated - 04/08/2020