For the past 10 years, the Department of Health and Human Services has been issuing the federal government’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans to help people understand the health benefits of getting an appropriate amount of physical activity. It’s no secret that physical activity and exercise is essential to good health, but to many, the challenge is in knowing where to start and what to aim for. How much is enough? How much is too much? And what kind of exercise is even appropriate for my age, my existing health, and so on?
If you’re so inclined to use these guidelines for yourself, the most recent report was just released and now incorporates considerations for:
-Additional health benefits related to brain health, additional cancer sites, and fall-related injuries;
-Immediate and longer-term benefits for how people feel, function, and sleep;
-Further benefits among older adults and people with additional chronic conditions;
-Risks of sedentary behavior and their relationship with physical activity;
-Guidance for preschool children (ages 3 through 5 years);
-Elimination of the requirement for physical activity of adults to occur in bouts of at least 10 minutes; and
-Tested strategies that can be used to get the population more active.
Here are the basics of this year’s report put into layman's terms:
Adults need at least 2.5 hours of moderate exercise per week.
If time efficiency is your game, the report suggests 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week. But don’t just try to cram it all in one session, as it’s suggested exercise needs to be spread throughout the week in at least 10-minute intervals. And of course, additional benefits are gained by taking up more than the minimum 2.5 hours per week, with muscle strengthening activities — your basics, nonetheless, push-ups and sit-ups — two or more days a week.
Kids require at least 1 hour of physical exercise per week.
This is a recommendation that has existed for some time now, ranging from moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity. And at least three times a week they should engage in vigorous-intensity activity like running or swimming. Being involved in organized sports like soccer are a surefire way to ensure kids are reaching this minimum.
And for the elderly, a group that often has the most needs in meeting their physical activity requirements for best health results:
Some are lucky to run marathons into their 60s and beyond, but those people are the exception and not the rule. “Aerobic” doesn’t necessarily have to mean getting tons of cardio in and raising your heart rate. The report was sure to point out that “biking slowly, canoeing, ballroom dancing, general gardening, using your manual wheelchair, arm cycling, walking briskly, and water aerobics” all count as appropriate activities for elderly.
But most Americans still fall short
A week consists of 7 days, which is of course 168 hours. Getting 2.5 hours of exercise a week is just under 1.5% of your life, yet “only 26 percent of men, 19 percent of women, and 20 percent of adolescents meet the recommendations,” HHS writes. “According to the guidelines, these low levels of physical activity among Americans have health and economic consequences for the nation, with nearly $117 billion dollars in annual healthcare costs and 10 percent of all premature mortality attributable to failure to meet levels of aerobic physical activity recommended in the guidelines.”