'Move More and Sit Less': These Are the New Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans

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CHICAGO — After a decade, Americans have new physical activity guidelines to aim for — and officials hope the changes will get more people encouraged to get moving.

That's because the new guidelines, released today (Nov. 12) by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), say that any exercise is better than none. In other words, even as little as a few minutes of exercise will count towards your daily exercise goal.

That's a change from the older guidelines, which said that in order to get the full health benefits of exercise, you needed to perform an activity for at least 10 minutes at a time. But "we now know that any amount of physical activity has some health benefits," Dr. Brett Giroir, the Assistant Secretary for Health at HHS, said here today at a talk on the new guidelines at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions annual meeting. [The 4 Types of Exercise You Need to Be Healthy]

Otherwise, the basic guidelines stayed largely the same: Adults need 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity each week — which translates to around 7,000 to 9,000 steps each day.  Muscle-strengthening activities, such as pushups, sit-ups or weight lifting, are recommended at least twice a week.  

For children and adolescents ages of 6 to 17, the guidelines also stayed the same. They recommend at least an hour of moderate to vigorous activity each day.

Another change is that the new guidelines now include a new group: young children. Kids ages 3 to 5 should be getting at least 3 hours of activity a day, in order to promote growth and development, especially for their bones, Giroir said.

But currently, only about 26 percent of men, 19 percent of women and 20 percent of adolescents in the U.S. meet the physical activity guidelines, Giroir said. And though trends and studies show that adults are becoming more active, activity rates among adolescents are declining.

Physical activity as a 'wonder drug'

Inactivity contributes to 10 percent of all early deaths in the U.S., Giroir said. So "if we can get just 25 percent of inactive people to be active and meet the recommendations, almost 75,000 deaths would be prevented in the United States," Giroir said.

Physical activity is sometimes called "the wonder drug," Janet Fulton, chief of the Physical Activity and Health Branch at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said at today's presentation. In fact, some doctors are now using prescription pads to prescribe physical activity to patients, she said.

Physical activity not only decreases the risk of early death, but also has many short-term and long-term benefits, according to the new guidelines. Some of the benefits of exercise are immediate — it reducesanxiety and blood pressure, improves sleep and improves insulin sensitivity (which can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes).

In the long-term, physical activity has been shown to improve brain health and cognition, reduce the risk of falls for older adults (by strengthening bones or improving balance), slow the progression of hypertension and type 2 diabetes, decrease pain for those with osteoarthritis, reduces the risk of postpartum depression, and some research has shown that it may reduce the risk of developing dementia.

Physical activity has also been shown to help reduce the risk of certain cancers. In the first edition of the guidelines, only two cancers were listed: breast and colon cancer. The updated edition adds that physical activity could also reduce the risk of bladder, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, stomach and lung cancer.

Girior summed up the recommendations in a few words: "Move more and sit less."

Originally published on Live Science.

Yasemin Saplakoglu
Staff Writer

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.