How much exercise do you really need? The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued exercise guidelines regarding the types and amounts of physical activity that provide health benefits for children starting at six years old to adults. These 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans are posted online at the HHS website, but here is a recap.
Exercise and diet are still key for overall health
The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines (click here for the full report) were designed to partner with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which were developed by HHS and the US Department of Agriculture and revised every five years (a new revision will be released in 2010).
When used together, these exercise and dietary guidelines can help promote good health and reduce the risk for chronic diseases by emphasizing the importance of being physically active and eating a healthy diet.Strong evidence links regular physical activity with a lower risk for early death, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, metabolic syndrome, colon and breast cancers, and even depression.
Regular physical activity also promotes maintaining a healthy weight – or weight loss when combined with a healthy diet – better cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, improved balance, reduced risk of injury from falls, and better cognitive function in older adults.
There is no question that exercise is good for you, but how much is beneficial?
Exercise guidelines for children and adolescents (aged 6 to 17 years old)
Unless your children are involved in sports or perchance love the Wii Fit, it is likely that they are spending more hours sitting in front of the computer or TV than engaging in physical activity.
With childhood obesity putting the nation’s youth at risk for disease as children as well as into adulthood, it is paramount to get kids moving. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that your kiddos engage in at least one hour of age-appropriate, enjoyable physical activity every day.
Most of the activities your children participate in should be aerobic activity done at a moderate or vigorous intensity. However, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activity should also be performed at least three days per week.
If kids are encouraged to go outside and play, they can easily achieve these guidelines. Depending on their age, they can play tag, kickball, touch football, shoot hoops, jump rope, or climb the playground equipment. Hiking, biking and swimming are also good activities. Encourage your children to get involved in school sports, and, if available, get your kids involved in youth fitness programs at your local health club.
Exercise guidelines for adults
Participation in any amount of physical activity is better than none but to realize the optimal health benefits that exercise can provide, the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines suggest a weekly 150 minutes of physical activity at a moderate-intensity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity, or an equivalent combination of the two.
For best results, aerobic activity should be spread through the week (meaning 30 minutes per day as opposed to two hours two days per week) and performed in increments of at least 10 minutes. That means you can ride your bike to work (10 minutes), take a brisk walk at lunch (10 minutes), and give Fido a jog before dinner (15 minutes) and easily fit in 35 minutes of total activity. By spacing out your increments, it won’t even seem like exercise.
The guidelines also recommend muscle-strengthening activities involving all major muscle groups that are moderate- or high-intensity to be performed on two or more days per week. You can accomplish this by taking a circuit-training class, lifting weights, or engaging in other resistance-training activities. Combining cardio and muscle-building activities into your week – as opposed to just one or the other – will give you optimal health and fitness benefits.
What if you are pregnant? Don’t think you can get away with nine months of inactivity. Experts suggest that healthy pregnant and postpartum women who are not already engaged in vigorous-intensity physical activity should get at least two hours and thirty minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, preferably spread throughout the week.
For those of you moms-to-be who regularly engage in vigorous-intensity aerobic activity or are highly active, continue with your fitness regimen, provided that your condition remains unchanged and you regularly consult with your healthcare provider regarding your activity level throughout your pregnancy.
Exercise guidelines for older adults
The previous adult guidelines apply to older adults but with consideration to safety and health status.
The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines indicate that when chronic conditions prevent older adults from doing 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow, taking their health and safety into account.
Since balance is essential in reducing the risk of falls, the guidelines also suggest that older adults should do activities – like tai chi, qi gong, yoga and fitness classes designed for older adults – that help maintain or improve balance.
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