October 8, 2008

Government Strengthens USA’s Exercise Guidelines

By Nanci Hellmich

The government has raised the bar for physical activity levels -- and nobody's exempt, not even children or older adults. And exercise researchers couldn't be happier.

The new Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are the most comprehensive federal recommendations ever and the new gold standard. "These are really well done, and I don't think they could get any more practical," says Tim Church, director of preventive medicine research at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.

Among the recommendations:

*Adults should get at least 21/2 hours of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, such as brisk walking, or 11/4 hours of a vigorous-intensity activity, such as jogging or swimming laps, or a combination of the two types, to get the most health benefits from exercise. These aerobic activities should be done in at least 10-minute bouts.

*To get even more health benefits, people should do five hours of moderate-intensity physical activity each week or 21/2 hours of vigorous activity.

*Adults should do muscle-strengthening (resistance) activities at a moderate- or high-intensity level for all major muscle groups two or more days a week. This should include exercises for the chest, back, shoulders, upper legs, hips, abdomen and lower legs. The exercises can be done with free weights or machines, resistance bands, calisthenics that use body weight for resistance (push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups), or carrying heavy loads or doing heavy gardening such as digging or hoeing.

*Children and adolescents should do an hour or more of moderate-intensity to vigorous aerobic physical activity each day. That should include vigorous activity at least three days a week, and it should include bone-strengthening activities such as running, jumping rope, skipping, playing hopscotch and muscle-strengthening activities such as tug of war, modified sit-ups and push-ups.

*Older Americans should follow the guidelines for other adults if they are able. If not, they should be as active as their physical condition allows. If they are at risk of falling, they should do exercises that improve balance.

*Adults with disabilities should also follow the guidelines for other adults if they are able.

Previous federal recommendations advised adults to do at least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week. They did not include specific muscle-strengthening recommendations.

The new guidelines allow you to find activities "that match your schedule. You get active your way," says HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt.

Leavitt says he meets the recommendations by working out on a StairMaster 40 to 60 minutes five times a week. When he plays golf, he walks the course. And he does strength-training exercises, including push-ups and sit-ups, in hotel rooms when he's traveling.

Melissa Johnson, executive director of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, says children and teens who are regularly active "have a better chance of a healthy adulthood."

Anne Newman, director of the Center for Aging and Population Health at the University of Pittsburgh, says sedentary people who are concerned they can't do 2 1/2 hours of physical activity a week should take heart because the guidelines emphasize that "if you are doing zero minutes, anything is better than that. And a little more is even better."

William Kraus, professor of medicine and cardiology at Duke University, says he tells patients to walk for 30 minutes a day. "We talk about walking the dog, even if they don't have one."

The importance of the guidelines is they are now going to be U.S. policy and will be incorporated into the government's decisions, Kraus says, and they will trickle down to the state and local laws and could result in more physical education in schools.

Regular physical activity has been shown to lower the risk of early death and many serious medical conditions. It helps prevent weight gain and promotes weight loss when combined with a reduced-calorie diet. About a third of Americans say they engage in regular leisure-time activities of moderate or vigorous intensity, one survey showed.

*For more information, visit www.health.gov/paguidelines. (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>