The Study

The US Department of Health and Human Services recently released the newest physical activity guidelines for Americans. The guidelines, updated from 2008, recommend adults engage in at least 150 minutes per week of activity at an intensity that elevates your heart rate. Adults should also engage in strength training activity at least twice a week. School-aged children and adolescents should be active for at least 180 minutes a week. There are also some new details in the report that include a list of ways physical activity can improve the quality and quantity of life.

Our Take

The evidence for the benefits of physical activity continues to grow. It is one of the most important things that people of all ages can do for their health. Physical activity still doesn’t have to mean running a marathon. Any activity is good.

So what’s new?

In the past, the guidelines required activity be in longer bouts to count. Originally it was 20 or 30 minutes at once. Then it was at least a 10-minute bout. The guidelines are now officially saying that anything counts. Something is better than nothing. Walking to the mailbox? Parking at the far end of the big box store and walking to the entrance? As long as you’re raising your heart rate, both count.

The new guidelines also encourage everyone to do a little less sitting. This doesn’t mean sitting is the new smoking but the guidelines do encourage all of us to sit less and move more.

It isn’t always easy to meet these guidelines. Finding time to be active is a common issue. The great thing about the changes is that they make it easier to squeeze activity into a busy life.

Dramatic changes aren’t necessary because reaching the goal can be broken into smaller pieces.

Our Recommendations

Look for exercise programs that recommend progressing up to a goal over time. Scientists who specialize in exercise motivation recommend setting a goal that the member thinks is easy to start. Once they meet the goal they should build on it. Each step is enhancing their health and helping to build self-efficacy. In fact, programs that encourage the member to push too hard or too far too soon can be counterproductive. It doesn’t feel particularly good and can be mentally discouraging.

For members that are already there, the guidelines note that more is better. Members can gain additional health benefits by engaging in moderate to vigorous intensity activity beyond 300 minutes every week.

Keep in mind that successful exercise programs believe something is better than nothing. Any activity remains one of the best investments members can make in their health.


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