Revised exercise guidelines exhort Americans to get moving

About 80% of Americans don’t get the recommended physical activity, and new guidelines from the Department of Health & Human Services attempts to do something about it. They state that even 5 minutes of exercise is beneficial, whereas previous guidelines recommended physical activity take place in at least 10 minutes increments. The point is to encourage movement of any kind.

Why the change? The Department of Health & Human Services noted that in the decade since the first set of guidelines were released, research has emerged showing the expansive benefits of exercise, including:

  •     Decreased risk of cancer: Studies show it helps prevent 8 types of cancer: (bladder,* breast, colon, endometrium,* esophagus,* kidney,* stomach,* and lung*)
  •     Reduced risk of anxiety and depression
  •     Boosting one’s cognitive function and sleep, reduces the risk of dementia* (including Alzheimer’s disease*)
  •     Reduced risk of fall-related injuries and excessive weight gain
  •     Regulating weight gain in preschoolers
  •     Protecting against gestational diabetes and postpartum depression in pregnant women and new mothers
  •     Decreasing the risk of falls among older people.

The report also estimated the damaging costs of a sedentary lifestyle on society, noting that, “about 10 percent of premature mortality are associated with inadequate physical activity.” “Being physically active,” the guidelines state, “is one of the most important actions individuals of all ages can engage in to improve their health.”

Nearly 160 million Americans are either obese or overweight, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which counts three-quarters of American men and more than 60% of women as obese or overweight. The rates among children under age 20 aren’t much better, with nearly 30% of boys and girls under age 20 are either obese or overweight, up from 19% in 1980.  Almost 60 percent of adults do no strength training on a regular basis, according to a recent study released from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Here are some highlights from the H&HS Guidelines.

  • 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week.  This remains the same from the previous recommendations.
  • Adults should engage in at least two days a week of muscle-strengthening activities.  
  • Preschool-aged children should be physically active throughout the day to enhance growth and development. Preschool children weren’t mentioned in the previous guidelines, but the H&HS are realizing how important it is to instill healthy exercise habits at a young age.
  • Children and teens ages 6 to 17 should get at least 60 minutes of vigorous activity every day, plus three days a week of activity that strengthens muscles, according to the recommendations.
  • Older adults should do exercise to improve balance as well as cardio and muscle-strengthening workouts, the panel said.
  • Women During Pregnancy and Postpartum period: Women should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week during pregnancy and the postpartum period, preferably spread throughout the week.
  • Adults with Chronic Health Conditions and Adults With Disabilities, who are able, should do at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week. Muscle-strengthening activities are also encouraged for 2 or more days a week.

“Move more and sit less,” is the key takeaway from the guidelines. A sedentary lifestyle has been shown repeatedly to lead to a host of health problems from heart disease and high blood pressure to all-cause mortality. Little choices like take elevator vs. the stairs can make a big difference in your overall health.

-Patricia Yeager

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