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Who Gets Enough Exercise, Who Doesn't?

New, Less Strict Guidelines Make More Americans 'Physically Active'
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 4, 2008 - Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults get at least minimum physical activity, according to new, less strict guidelines announced last October.

Under the older guidelines, fewer than half of adult Americans would have been "physically active," the CDC calculates.

Under both sets of guidelines:

  • Men get more exercise than women.
  • Young adults get much more exercise than seniors.
  • White non-Hispanics get the most exercise and black non-Hispanics get the least.
  • Westerners get the most exercise and Southerners get the least.
  • Overweight people get nearly as much exercise as normal-weight people.
  • College graduates get the most exercise and those who didn't finish high school get the least.

What's the difference between the two sets of guidelines?

The 2008 guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services say the very least amount of physical activity you need is:

  • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, or
  • 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week, or
  • An "equivalent" combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity.

The older guidelines were part of the HHS "Healthy People 2010" objectives. The Healthy People guidelines said the very least amount of physical activity you need is:

  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five days a week, or
  • 20 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity three days a week

Under both sets of guidelines:

  • Moderate physical activities cause some increase in breathing or heart rate. Examples include brisk walking, bicycling, vacuuming, and gardening.
  • Vigorous physical activities cause large increases in breathing or heart rate. Examples include running, aerobics, and heavy yard work.

A CDC analysis shows the new guidelines relax activity requirements in two main ways:

  • You no longer have to get in a 20- or 30-minute exercise session all at once. Instead you can break up the activity throughout the week, although doing each aerobic activity for at least 10 minutes is advised.
  • You can combine moderate and vigorous physical activities.

The result of the change, based on the CDC's 2007 telephone survey of nearly 400,000 Americans: 15.7% more Americans were getting enough physical activity, even though they didn't get any more exercise.

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