Experts flood the health and wellness field, each offering sometimes contradictory advice for appropriate amounts of physical activity. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has analyzed the data and, in 2008, issued guidelines that people can follow to stay fit.
If your current levels of physical activity fall below the recommended guidelines, don’t let that keep you from exercising. Any amount of physical activity is beneficial. If possible, start small and gradually increase physical activity until reaching the recommended amounts.
Adolescents ages 6 to 17
Children at this age often have abundant energy, and while some get plenty of exercise, other find their imaginations captured more by television and video games than playing street hockey.
Federal guidelines recommend adolescents should get at least one hour each day of moderate or vigorous exercise. Reaching that one-hour block of time impacts health more than the intensity or type of exercise, according to the guidelines. Most of the exercise should fall into the aerobic category—running, playing team sports, or dancing, for example—and should include vigorous exercise at least three days a week.
Adolescents should also work to build muscle at least three days a week, and complete bone strengthening exercises three days a week. Muscle strengthening exercises include climbing trees, playing on playground equipment, or lifting weights while bone building activities could include running, tennis, or weight lifting.
They note that appropriate exercise is crucial at this age because:
“Youth who are regularly active also have a better chance of a healthy adulthood. Children and adolescents don’t usually develop chronic diseases, such as heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, or osteoporosis. However, risk factors for these diseases can begin to develop early in life. Regular physical activity makes it less likely that these risk factors will develop and more likely that children will remain healthy as adults.”
Adults ages 18 to 64
In adulthood, recommended levels of exercise fall from 60 minutes daily to 150 minutes—two hours and 30 minutes—each week, although more exercise imparts additional health benefits.
The guidelines address the importance of any form of activity for adults. They state that:
“Inactive adults or those who don’t yet do 150 minutes of physical activity a week should work gradually toward this goal. The initial amount of activity should be at a light or moderate intensity, for short periods of time, with the sessions spread throughout the week. The good news is that ‘some is better than none.’ People gain some health benefits even when they do as little as 60 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity.”
Activity should be at a moderate intensity, and can include activities such as gardening, walking at least three miles per hour, or slow bicycling. People who tend to workout more vigorously—think singles tennis, jump rope, or difficult hikes—can make do with 75 minutes each week.
Workout sessions should last at least ten minutes and should be spread throughout the week, ideally on at least three separate days. At least two days a week, adults should work out all of their major muscle groups through activities such as weight lifting, using resistance bands, or doing pull-ups, push-ups, and sit-ups.
Adults ages 65 and older
Older adults should also aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise weekly, although additional exercise offers greater health benefits. Adults with chronic conditions that make it difficult to reach desired exercise amounts should do what they can and try to avoid becoming inactive. The authors of the guidelines note that:
“Older adults are a varied group. Most, but not all, have one or more chronic conditions, and these conditions vary in type and severity. All have experienced a loss of physical fitness with age, some more than others. This diversity means that some older adults can run several miles, while others struggle to walk several blocks.”
Unfit older adults should take care to adopt an exercise regimen in accordance with their current levels of physical fitness and adjust as capabilities expand. Other than that, older adults should follow the same guidelines as younger adults. In addition to the general guidelines, they also suggest that older adults should:
- Be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow, even if this isn’t 150 minutes of activity a week
- Do exercises that maintain or improve balance if they are at risk of falling
- Determine their level of effort for exercise relative to their level of fitness
Additional considerations for exercise
A final section of the report touches on additional considerations for special populations of adults. As the study notes, “some people have conditions that raise special issues about recommended types and amounts of physical activity.” The populations it looks at specifically in the guidelines are:
- Pregnant and post-partum women
- Osteoarthritis patients
- Individuals with Type 2 diabetes
- Cancer survivors
The guidelines give examples of appropriate activities in their report, but they also point out three key messages for these groups. Namely:
- Adults with chronic conditions still obtain important health benefits from exercise
- If exercise is done according to a person’s abilities, it can still be safe
- Adults with chronic conditions should be under the care of a healthcare professional, consulting them as necessary as to the type and amount of activity appropriate for them
In all sections of the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines, healthcare professionals stress that physical exercise is crucially important for health and attainable for any person, no matter their age or ability.
How much exercise do you get weekly?
Image by Hotel Der Oeschberghof – Golf – Spa – Tagung via Flickr