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Going Beyond the 30-Minute Threshold continued...

"For those who are following the 30-minute guideline and gaining weight anyway, they may need as much as 60 minutes a day to prevent weight gain," says Pate.

And at the high end of the spectrum is 90 minutes of exercise every day.

"The 90-minute recommendation is for people who have been significantly overweight, lost a substantial amount of weight, and seek to maintain that weight loss in the long term," Pate tells WebMD. "Data from the National Weight Loss Registry indicates that people who have been overweight succeed in losing and maintaining weight loss for an extended period if they are highly active during the period when they are maintaining the loss."

Ninety minutes is the bottom line for people in this category, although some might comment that most people aren't even doing 30, so why would they do two or three times that?

"It looks different, and dramatic and potentially controversial," says Pate. "But whether you like the facts or not, it's important to base the recommendation on the best science available."

What Changed?

While these new guidelines may be a frightening thing in the face of a busy lifestyle, they're not far off from where we've been.

"The 2005 dietary guidelines really spell out for us what we've been told along," says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise.

In 1996, explains Bryant, the U.S. surgeon general issued a position that Americans should strive to obtain 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days. While some might have interpreted that to mean three days a week -- a common misconception -- the science has always indicated more than that was necessary to maintain weight and promote health.

In 2002, the Institute of Medicine upped the ante by saying Americans needed to accumulate even more physical activity if they wanted to effectively control weight.

"The 2005 guidelines put all this together and refined the information," says Bryant, "basically saying you want to strive to get in as much physical activity as you can on most days: 30 minutes a day if you're a person of normal body weight and you just want the health benefits of being physically active, 60 minutes if you want to control your weight, and 90 minutes if you want to lose and sustain."

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