Fitness Programs | HHS Announces Physical Activity Guidelines

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HHS Announces Physical Activity Guidelines

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans

Healthy Adults, Older Adults and Adults with Disabilities

At least 2.5 hours of weekly moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, water aerobics, ballroom dancing or general gardening. You should be able to talk comfortably during exercise. If time is an issue, fit in several 10-minute bouts of aerobic exercise a day. For more health benefits, exercise 5 hours a week at a moderate pace. More fit individuals can opt for 75 minutes of weekly vigorous exercise, such as jogging, race walking, swimming laps, jumping rope or hiking uphill; and increase training to 2.5 hours a week for greater health benefits. At least twice a week incorporate strength-training exercises such as weight-training, push-ups, sit-ups, carrying heavy loads or heavy gardening. Sedentary adults and those with medical pre-conditions and chronic conditions should consult their physicians before embarking on an exercise program.

Children and Adolescents

At least one hour a day of moderate physical activity, such as hiking, skateboarding, bicycle riding and brisk walking, including three days a week of vigorous activities, such as running, basketball, soccer or ice and field hockey. For strong muscles and bones, perform strength-training activities, such as climbing rope, sit-ups and tug-of-war three days a week.

Women who are Pregnant

At least 2.5 hours of weekly moderate-intensity aerobic activity during pregnancy and after delivery, such as swimming, cycling on a stationary bicycle or working on an elliptical trainer. Fitter women can continue to perform 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic training a week given their doctor’s consent and adjustment of the exercise program over time.

Thanksgiving kicks off a season when Americans typically spend the next six weeks enjoying their favorite holiday treats only to make it their New Year’s resolution to shed the extra three to seven pounds they’ve put on.

With two-thirds of Americans already being overweight or obese, additional holiday pounds can wreak more havoc on people’s bodies than the obvious extra padding. Holiday stress and excess calories can precipitate attacks of angina or even a heart attack in people with underlying disease.

Therefore, the new exercise guidelines, released last month by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, are just in time to get an entire population moving.

This is the first time that the government has issued specific guidelines on how much exercise, types and intensities are appropriate for people of all ages and physical conditions.

“The comprehensive recommendations for the nation reinforce what ACE (American Council on Exercise) has been encouraging Americans to do since its inception, which is to get regular physical activity,” said Dr. Cedric Bryant, Chief Science Officer at ACE. “Adherence to these guidelines could have a tremendously positive impact on public health since increasing one’s level of physical activity produces many benefits including weight loss, improved fitness and a reduced risk of heart disease and chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.”

Adult Guidelines

According to the guidelines, most adults could gain substantial health benefits from 2 1/2 hours of weekly moderate intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or gardening. For more physically fit adults, 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, such as swimming laps, hiking uphill or race-walking can offer similar health benefits in half the time.

Think you can’t carve out time for exercise during a busy day?

Research shows that even 10-minute bouts of heart-pumping activity are better than none at all. To regain lost lean muscle mass and strengthen weakening bones, which is part of the normal aging process, the experts recommend that adults also lift weights twice a week.

Children’s Guidelines

When was the last time you saw children congregate on your neighborhood streets to play a game of hide and seek or hopscotch? If you’re scratching your head, the holidays are a perfect time for family fun in the fall foliage.

Children should spend at least an hour a day doing brisk activities, such as hiking or bicycle riding, including three days of higher-intensity aerobic activity. So why not engage the whole family in a challenging snowball fight, long hike or bicycle ride to burn calories together and enrich your holiday fun?

Parents should also encourage their children to do activities that strengthen muscles and bones, such as climbing on ropes, jumping rope, running and skipping. And that goes for the entire year.

One-Third of American Children are Overweight

Today, only about 26 percent of U.S. adults engage in vigorous leisure-time physical activity three or more times a week. And for the first time Americans are raising children who may grow up even less healthy than their parents. With one-third of American children being overweight and 16 percent being obese, this generation of youngsters will be facing serious health problems earlier in life without intervention.

U.S. adults aren’t faring much better. More than two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese; and more than half don’t engage in any exercise to help their health. Yet, weight control is only part of the exercise equation.

Regular Exercise Cuts Risk For Disease

The expert panel gathered by the HHS to review the data found that regular physical activity can cut the risk of heart attacks and stroke by at least 20 percent. Exercise can reduce chances of early death and prevent serious medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, let alone improve bone health and mental well-being.

“The evidence is clear,” said HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt. “Regular physical activity over months and years produces long-term health benefits and reduces the risk of many diseases. The more physically active you are, the more health benefits you gain.”

Older Adults and People with Disabilities

Older adults and people with disabilities can reap the same benefits as healthy adults using the same guidelines, provided they aren’t suffering from a chronic condition, are prone to falling, or are unable to engage in certain exercises. To be safe, consult your physician before starting on an exercise program.

People with Chronic Conditions

People with chronic medical conditions can also greatly benefit from exercise. Statistics have shown that people with heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and other serious medical conditions who exercise regularly can in some cases reduce their medication needs and tend to feel much better physically and mentally.

Pregnant Women

Having a baby? Congratulations. There is no need to stop exercising now. To the contrary, 2.5 hours or more a week of moderate aerobic exercise during pregnancy and after delivery can help keep pregnant women fit. Women who are already highly active can continue to exercise at a more vigorous level unless their doctor recommends against it. However, after the first trimester, women should avoid exercises while lying on their back.

Keeping Fit through the Holidays

So whether you’re aged 14, 25 or 70, an avid exerciser or a couch potato, it’s never too late to start exercising or to ramp up your current exercise levels. Most Americans don’t exercise enough, which isn’t only about fitting into a smaller size pant, but a matter of healthful and mindful living.

If you’re already approaching the holidays with a sense of resignation and entitlement to splurge, why not make a lifestyle change now and approach the New Year with a real sense of renewal of body and soul.

For those needing guidance, simply click on the ACE Website to find a personal trainer near you who can help put you and your loved ones on the right exercise track for a healthier 2009 and thereafter.

Happy Holidays from the ACE Team!

Marion Webb is the managing editor for the American Council on Exercise and an ACE-certified Personal Trainer. For specific fitness-related story ideas or comments, please e-mail her directly at