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Exercise Guidelines: Less Gym, More Fun

Federal Guidelines Say Americans Should Pick a Physical Activity They Can Stick With
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 7, 2008 -- Children and adolescents should get at least one hour of exercise every day, and adults should get at least two and one-half hours of physical activity per week, according to new federal guidelines.

The guidelines urge Americans to become physically active to reduce weight, stave off chronic diseases, and live longer. But unlike previous efforts, the recommendations de-emphasize gym exercise in favor of activities people are more likely to enjoy.

"Pick an activity that's easy for you to fit into your life," says Michael O. Leavitt, secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, which released the guidelines. "You just need to get moving."

An advisory panel that authored the guidelines recommended daily physical activity for nearly all Americans. Children and adolescents, they said, should get at least one hour of physical activity each day, with more intense exercise on at least three days out of the week.

"They can climb trees, they can go on the playground, they can do hopping and skipping games," said Steven Galson, MD, the acting surgeon general.

More than a third of U.S. adults get less than the recommended amount of physical activity, and a quarter get no regular leisure time exercise at all, according to the CDC. That puts them at risk for chronic diseases including diabetes and heart disease, and premature death.

The guidelines recommend that healthy adults get either 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity activity or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity each week. The guidelines urge adults to "mix and match" their activities and intensity levels but recommend a minimum of 10 minutes per day. Adults should do muscle-strengthening exercise involving all major muscle groups at least two days per week.

Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activities include ballroom dancing, walking briskly, bicycling less than 10 miles per hour, water aerobics, and gardening.

Vigorous intensity activities include jogging, running, jumping rope, hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack, and bicycling 10 miles per hour or faster.

The guidelines also recommend:

  • For healthy pregnant women: at least 2.5 hours of moderate exercise during pregnancy and the postpartum period.
  • For disabled adults: 2.5 hours of physical activity per week for those who are able.
  • For adults over 65: 2.5 hours per week, depending on capability. Seniors at risk for falls are recommended to perform exercises to help with balance.

Leavitt acknowledged that many Americans "might think they've heard this all before." But the guidelines de-emphasize gyms and exercise classes in favor of activities that might be easier for many Americans to stick with.

"Pick something that you like to do," Galson says.

James O. Hill, PhD, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado, praised the guidelines, the first comprehensive national recommendations on physical activity.

"Where I'm at is 'the more is better.' I think it's fine. I think now we just help people understand how to get there and how to increase physical activity," says Hill, who is also president of the American Society for Nutrition.

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