The new US physical activity guidelines show that even everyday activities in short amounts can do wonders for mind and body.
A committee appointed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services has published the country's latest exercise advice. In its first update since 2008, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition (PAG) is based on a systematic review of research about physical activity and health.
The authors write that "approximately 80% of US adults and adolescents are insufficiently active," which is as surprising as it is not surprising. Here is what the guidelines recommend in terms of amount of exercise:Ages 3 through 5:
Should be physically active throughout the day to enhance growth and development.
Ages 6 through 17:
At least 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily.
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 combination of both. They should also do muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week.
Should do multicomponent physical activity that includes balance training as well as aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.
One big change from the previous edition is that they no longer advise a specific duration for bouts of exercise. Whereas they used to recommend exercising in sessions at least 10 minutes long, now they write: "Current evidence shows that the total volume of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity is related to many health benefits; bouts of a prescribed duration are not essential." So that's good.
What really stood out to me was the list of benefits. Of course, we all know that exercise is one of the most important things we can do for our health – but it's pretty sobering (or inspiring) to see just how immense the benefits are.
And so here's what I have figured out. An adult can divide the recommended 75 minutes of "vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity" to 11 minutes each day. And in doing so can help to achieve what the report lists as "Health Benefits Associated With Regular Physical Activity" (see Box 2):
• Lower risk of all-cause mortality
• Lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality
• Lower risk of cardiovascular disease (including heart disease and stroke)
• Lower risk of hypertension
• Lower risk of type 2 diabetes
• Lower risk of adverse blood lipid profile
• Lower risk of cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lung, and stomach
• Improved cognition
• Reduced risk of dementia (including Alzheimer disease)
• Improved quality of life
• Reduced anxiety
• Reduced risk of depression
• Improved sleep
• Slowed or reduced weight gain
• Weight loss, particularly when combined with reduced calorie intake
• Prevention of weight regain after initial weight loss
• Improved bone health
• Improved physical function
• Lower risk of falls (older adults)
• Lower risk of fall-related injuries (older adults)
My goodness, who doesn't want all of that?! I'll even exercise for 12 minutes a day!
Aerobic activity is defined as "An activity in which the body’s large muscles move for a sustained amount of time, therefore improving cardiorespiratory fitness." Also known as endurance or cardio, this doesn't have to be running a marathon or something overly challenging. Moderate aerobic activity includes walking briskly at 2.5 to 4.0 mph, playing volleyball, or raking the yard. Vigorous activities could include jogging, carrying heavy groceries, or taking a strenuous fitness class.
Beyond recommendations for average adults, the report goes into detail with advice for kids, pregnant and postpartum women, adults with a chronic health condition or a disability, and how to exercise safely. It even suggests what kind of unexpected activities can go toward one's total count – like, park farther away from a destination and walk; take the stairs instead of an escalator, etc.
I think a lot of people are intimidated by exercise – it is often made to seem so much harder than it is, or that benefits only come from strenuous work. Or maybe people just don't want to buy into the jock culture. Regardless, these new guidelines show that most of us can reap these very impressive benefits without loads of effort. In the paper's discussion, the authors explain that new evidence "shows that obtaining health benefits associated with physical activity may be easier than previously thought." Especially now that even short spurts add up.
I really recommend reading the whole thing. And in the meantime, I'll be right back ... going for three minutes of jumping jacks.
You can see the report here: The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans