The Grapevine

New Exercise Guidelines By HHS Encourage Americans To Move More, Start Younger

On average, only around a quarter of the American population meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity. Clearly, adherence could and should be much better.

This week, the federal guidelines were updated for the first time since 2008, and the bottom line is clear — every little bit of activity counts so never lose a chance to move. 

"The new guidelines demonstrate that, based on the best science, everyone can dramatically improve their health just by moving — anytime, anywhere, and by any means that gets you active," said Dr. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Health and Human Services Department (HHS).

"That’s why we need to come together as a nation to get Americans moving. When we move more, we have better cardiovascular health, we are stronger and less susceptible to disease, and we feel better."

Several reports this year revealed an increase in the rates of childhood obesity, anxiety, and other harmful conditions. The new guidelines emphasize how any amount of physical activity can have some degree of benefit in reducing risk and easing symptoms.

The key phrase here is "any amount," in contrast to the previous recommendation that 10-minute blocks of activity were needed at minimum to reap benefits. So if you take the stairs every morning instead of the elevator, it is definitely making a difference.

"Everything counts," said Loretta DiPietro, an epidemiologist at George Washington University. She was among the experts who wrote the review of the science on physical activity, which the new guidelines are based on. Just using a bicycle more often or walking an extra block "can accumulate over the course of the day," DiPietro added.

Giroir noted how these new guidelines were much easier to meet and incorporate into the daily lives of Americans. Even better is the fact that some benefits kick in almost immediately after a single bout of activity. These include better sleep, reduced anxiety levels, improved insulin sensitivity, etc.

In the long run, the HHS notes, physical activity can improve heart health, reduce the risk of eight types of cancer and slow down the progression of type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and more.

Younger age groups were not excluded from the recommendations this time around. Preschool-aged children were advised to stay physically active throughout the day for better growth and development. Older children and teenagers can aim for at least an hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day.

As always, muscle-strengthening activities (like tennis, dancing, weight training, cycling, etc.) should be performed twice a week. On the other hand, aerobic activity can be spread out, either for 150 minutes per week at moderate intensity or 75 minutes per week at vigorous intensity.