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New Guidelines For Physical Activity for Individuals 6 Years and Older

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued guidelines regarding the types and amounts of physical activity that provide substantial health benefits for physical activity for individuals 6 years and older.

These 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans are posted online at the HHS Web site. "Along with President Bush, I believe that physical activity should be an essential component of any comprehensive disease prevention and health promotion strategy for Americans," HHS Secretary Michael O. Leavitt writes in a letter introducing the guidelines. "We know that sedentary behavior contributes to a host of chronic diseases, and regular physical activity is an important component of an overall healthy lifestyle. There is strong evidence that physically active people have better health-related physical fitness and are at lower risk of developing many disabling medical conditions than inactive people."

Regular physical activity each week, sustained for months and years, can produce long-term health benefits. Strong evidence links regular physical activity with a lower risk for early death, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, metabolic syndrome, colon and breast cancers, and depression. Regular physical activity also promotes prevention of weight gain, weight loss when combined with diet, better cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, fall prevention, and better cognitive function in older adults.

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines were designed to complement the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which were developed by HHS and the US Department of Agriculture.

Major research findings on the health benefits of physical activity, gathered by the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee after a review of the literature and other available evidence, are as follows:

  • Regular physical activity lowers the risk for many adverse health outcomes.
  • Although some physical activity is better than none, higher intensity, greater frequency, and/or longer duration of physical activity provide additional benefits for most health outcomes.
  • At least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, is needed for most health benefits, but more physical activity provides additional benefits.
  • Aerobic (endurance) and muscle-strengthening (resistance) physical activity both promote better health.
  • In every studied racial and ethnic group, and in children and adolescents, young and middle-aged adults, and older adults, physical activity is linked to health benefits.
  • People with disabilities also receive health benefits from physical activity.
  • The benefits provided by physical activity far outweigh the risk for harms.

Key guidelines for physical activity for children and adolescents are as follows:

  • Children and adolescents should engage in at least 1 hour of physical activity daily, preferably in physical activities that are appropriate for their age, that are enjoyable, and that offer variety.
  • Most of this activity should be either moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.
  • Vigorous-intensity physical activity, muscle-strengthening physical activity, and bone-strengthening physical activity should each be performed at least 3 days per week.

Key guidelines for physical activity for adults, including older adults, are as follows:

  • All adults should avoid inactivity. Participation in any amount of physical activity is associated with some health benefits relative to no physical activity.
  • At least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity offers substantial health benefits.
  • Aerobic activity should preferably be spread throughout the week and performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes.
  • Aerobic physical activity of 300 minutes per week of moderate intensity, or 150 minutes per week of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity, is associated with additional and more extensive health benefits.
  • Engaging in physical activity beyond this amount provides additional health benefits.
  • Muscle-strengthening activities that are moderate or high intensity and involve all major muscle groups should be performed on 2 or more days per week for additional health benefits.

Additional guidelines specific to older adults are as follows:

  • When chronic conditions prevent older adults from doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow. They should understand whether and how their conditions affect their ability to do regular physical activity safely.
  • Older adults at risk of falling should do exercises that maintain or improve balance.
  • Older adults should determine their level of effort for physical activity relative to their fitness level.

Regular physical activity each week, sustained for months and years, is linked to long-term health benefits, including reduced risks for early death, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, metabolic syndrome, colon and breast cancers, and depression. Evidence is also strong that regular physical activity is associated with prevention of weight gain, weight loss when combined with diet, better cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, fall prevention, and better cognitive function in older adults.

Practice Pearls:

  • The HHS 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans describe the numerous health benefits of regular physical activity in reducing the risk for many adverse health outcomes in every age, racial, and ethnic group studied. Some physical activity is better than none, but greater intensity, higher frequency, and/or longer duration of physical activity offer additional benefits for most health outcomes.
  • Key guidelines for physical activity are that children and adolescents should engage in 1 or more hours of physical activities daily, mostly moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, with vigorous-intensity physical activity, muscle-strengthening physical activity, and bone-strengthening physical activity each performed 3 or more days per week. In adults, at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity, 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both, offers substantial health benefits.

US Dept of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Published online October 7, 2008.

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