New Physical Activity Guidelines Encourage Americans to Get Moving

The federal government’s recommendations urge children as young as three and adults older than 65 to participate in daily physical activity.

The advice first came from Slim Shady, and now it's being repeated by the federal government: please, stand up. Nearly 80 percent of Americans don’t meet its recommendations for daily aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity, which is linked to 10 percent of premature mortality. To urge Americans to “move more and sit less,” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released on Monday its second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which was originally published in 2008.

“The new guidelines demonstrate that, based on the best science, everyone can dramatically improve their health just by moving – anytime, anywhere, and by any means that gets you active,” says Adm. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services.

The update is founded upon research showing the newfound benefits of physical activity, including reduced anxiety, improved sleep quality, and even a decreased risk of depression, which can be seen immediately after exercising. And it comes at a time when working a desk job and spending hours perched in front of the television has become the norm: in a national health survey, researchers found that children and adults spend about 7.7 hours each day — amounting to more than half of their waking time — being sedentary, which has a strong association with the risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality in adults.

While the Department of Health and Human Services still recommends that adults take up 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, plus two muscle-strengthening sessions, each week, it’s shifted its stance on the best way to meet that quota. The original guidelines urged adults to engage in physical activity in 10-minute blocks, but this time commitment could discourage people who are short on time from getting active, says William Kraus, a cardiologist and Duke University medical school professor who served on the advisory committee for the guidelines. Now, the department says that shorter bursts of activity, like briskly climbing a few flights of stairs, can count toward meeting the weekly aerobic activity goal.

Research has shown that physical activity can improve children’s bone health and weight status, so the federal government has included recommendations for preschool children in their guidelines for the first time. Per the recommendations, three to five-year-olds should be encouraged to move often and engage in various intensities of active play, like throwing games and bike riding, for three hours a day. To strengthen bones, young children should play games involving hopping, skipping, and jumping, and adolescents ages six to 17 should get in at least an hour of moderate-to-vigorous exercise, consisting of aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening activities, each day. The guidelines don’t leave out older Americans, either. Seniors are encouraged to maintain a physically active lifestyle, which can lower their risk of dementia, Type 2 diabetes, and eight types of cancer, and incorporate balance training into their regimen to help prevent falls.

The key takeaway from the new recommendations? "Everything counts," says Loretta DiPietro, an epidemiologist at George Washington University who helped write the review of the science on physical activity, which was used to create the guidelines.

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