In 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the first edition of the “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans”. This document was created as a complement to the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” which was originally a joint effort between the HHS and the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
HHS recently released their newest version of the “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans”. Research for this document began in 2016 and involved not only a review of scientific research but also of documents from public and government agencies.
The importance of consistent physical activity is widely documented in numerous studies. We know that it can benefit growth and development, promote feeling better physically/mentally/emotionally, support better sleep, can reduce the risk of a number of chronic diseases, and improve symptoms and/or slow the promotion of many established chronic conditions. Physical activity can also benefit all ages, races, ethnicities, and those with disabilities. Benefits include those which are both short- and long-term.
The newest version of the Guidelines expands the science-based recommendations to include preschool children, as well as for older adults and those with chronic conditions. It also provides guidance related to research supporting benefits for brain health, plus reducing the risk for additional cancer sites and fall-related injuries.
Included in the recommendations is the message of increased health risks from sedentary behavior. Since any activity is better than none, the recommendation for adults to participate in bouts of activities greater than 10 minutes has been eliminated.
A related campaign – “Move Your Way” – which is meant to promote the Guidelines, comes from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (within the HHS). Resources with more specific information related to this campaign and the guidelines can be found at https://www.health.gov/PAGuidelines/.
The Guidelines break down the recommendations into several categories – children 3-5 years of age, children/teens 6-17 years of age, adults, pregnant and post-partum women, older adults, and adults with chronic conditions/disabilities.
For 3-5 years old children, the goal is at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily. They recommend that caregivers of preschool children encourage physical activities that include a variety of activity types.
For 6-17 years old children/teens, the target is at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity daily. Within these blocks of time, at least three times a week the activities should include vigorous activity, at least three time a week muscle strengthening activities, and at least three times a week some bone strengthening activities (jumping, weight-bearing, etc.).
The recommendations for adults suggest moving more and sitting less. They also encourage at least 150-300 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity or at least 75-150 minutes of vigorous activity a week. Ideally, these activities should be spread throughout the week.
Adults should also include strength-building activities of moderate or greater intensity that work all the major muscle groups two or more times a week. Note that research shows a strong connection between the amount of muscle mass we have and health.
The Guidelines suggest that during and after pregnancy, women try for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate activity. If they have been doing vigorous activity prior to pregnancy, they can continue that activity. In any case, they should consult their health care provider for additional guidance as to whether or how to adjust their physical activity during and after pregnancy.
Older adults should follow the same recommendations as those for adults indicated above, with consideration of current abilities and physical/medical conditions. In addition, they should include activities that promote good balance. They should also consult their health care provider for more specific recommendations and to discuss any safety concerns.
Adults with chronic conditions or disabilities should follow the adult guidelines, again, based on their current fitness level and abilities to do so. If they are not able to achieve the recommended level of activity, they should try to avoid being inactive and be as physically active as possible. They should be under the care of their health care provider and/or utilize the services of a physical activity professional for specific guidance regarding the appropriate type and amount of physical activity relative to their abilities and physical condition.
Safe physical activity means using the appropriate gear or equipment as applicable, exercising in a safe environment, and being sensible about when, where, and how to be physically active. A good general recommendation is to “start low and go slow”. This means starting at your current level of fitness/ability and progressing gradually. Being too aggressive can lead to injury.
The newest “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans” not only emphasize the increasing evidence that physical activity can promote both short- and long-term health but also provide specific action steps for persons of all ages and abilities to achieve those recommendations.
Pam Stuppy, MS, RD, CSSD, LD is a registered, licensed dietitian with nutrition counseling offices in York, ME and Portsmouth, NH. She is also the nutritionist for Phillips Exeter Academy, presents workshops nationally, and is Board Certified as a Specialist in Sports Dietetics. (See www.pamstuppynutrition.com for more nutrition information, some healthy cooking tips, and recipe ideas).