HHS updates physical activity guidelines


How much physical activity do we need if we want to feel better and stay healthier? For most Americans, the answer is quite simple: more than we are doing now.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), four out of five people are not active enough and more than a quarter of adults do not exercise at all. Not only does being a “couch potato” have a personal impact, but researchers in a study published in January 2015 in Advances in Cardiovascular Disease estimated that lack of exercise accounts for an additional $117 billion in healthcare costs each year.

The good news is that updated physical activity recommendations for Americans by HHS, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on November 20, make achieving the suggested fitness goals more achievable than the old guidelines.

Members of the HHS Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee (a nationally recognized group of experts on physical activity and exercise) reviewed the latest scientific knowledge on physical activity and to update previous guidelines, which were published in 2008. The new recommendations were based on the amount of research support as well as the consistency and quality of results in different areas of exercise and their link to health.

Many recommendations remained unchanged, including the suggested intensity and amount of weekly movements. According to the new recommendations, adults should still do 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week; and they should do strength training at least two days a week.

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The new guidelines now include recommendations for small children (those aged 3 to 5), emphasizing the importance of physical activity and active play in growth and development.

The biggest change for adults is how long an exercise session must last to count towards the goal. In previous guidelines, a movement episode had to last at least 10 minutes. In the updated guidelines, shorter durations of activity – even just a minute or two, can go towards the number of minutes of exercise. “These small changes can help increase health-promoting activity,” the authors wrote in JAMA.

“The update is very substantial,” says Haitham Ahmed, MD, a preventive cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio who was not involved in writing the recommendations. “Data has increasingly shown that even minimal amounts of exercise are better than none,” he says.

“Just taking the stairs instead of using the elevator or taking short walks throughout the day will increase your step count and also add cumulative aerobic exercise. This has huge long-term benefits. says Dr. Ahmed.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 10 premature deaths is linked to insufficient physical activity. Exercise leads to health benefits in almost every organ and muscle in your body and can help prevent or reduce the risk of many chronic diseases, including:

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Here are the key takeaways from the recommendations for physical activity

The new HHS physical activity recommendations emphasize the following:

  • Move more and sit less.
  • For people who exercise the least, even a modest increase in physical activity can have health benefits.
  • Young children between the ages of 3 and 5 should be physically active throughout the day.
  • Children and teens ages 6 to 17 should get at least an hour or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day.
  • Adults should get 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, or an equivalent combination of the two.
  • Adults should do muscle-strengthening activities two or more days a week.
  • Seniors (65 and older) should incorporate balance training into their exercise routine.

Examples of moderate-intensity physical activity are brisk walking at a pace of 2.5 to 4 miles per hour or raking the yard. Vigorous-intensity activities include jogging, carrying heavy groceries, or participating in a strenuous fitness class.

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The “talk test” is a way to determine the type of activity you are doing. If you can talk while you exercise, it’s likely moderate exercise, the authors note in the JAMA report. If you can only say a few words before pausing to catch your breath, that is considered vigorous intensity.

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Health experts want you to sit less and move more – all day

The new report’s removal of the 10-minute sparring criterion is intended to encourage people to be more active, which means moving more and sitting less, says Richard P. Troiano, PhD, captain at the U.S. Public Health Service and co- author of the recommendations.

“We know that one of the most commonly cited barriers to physical activity is lack of time. Previously, some of the recommendations to add activities to daily life, such as parking further away or taking the stairs, did not meet the guidelines due to access criteria,” says Dr. Troiano. “The message is now clear that any activity of moderate or vigorous intensity – however brief – is beneficial,” he says.

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These recommendations encourage people to do all they can, even if they don’t achieve the amount of exercise listed in these guidelines, says Kerry Stewart, professor of medicine in cardiology and director of exercise physiology. clinic/research at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. Stewart was not involved in drafting the recommendations.

“These guidelines suggest that simply getting up to move is beneficial, even if it’s only for 5 or 10 minutes.” It’s not just about exercising, he stresses. “It is also essential not to sit still for too long.”

Wondering where to start? Take a walk, suggests Dr. Ahmed. “Walking is my favorite exercise because it puts little pressure on the joints and can be done almost anywhere with minimal fancy equipment,” he says. “If you walk briskly, you can really get your heart rate up and into the aerobic zone. So it’s a great way to increase your daily physical activity,” he says.


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