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“Being physically active is one of the most important steps that Americans of all ages can take to improve their health.” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

Get Moving Your Way

Government Issues Comprehensive—and Flexible—Physical Activity Guidelines

It’s no secret that most Americans don’t get enough exercise. Many are overweight or obese. Worse, we are raising a generation of inactive children. We need to get moving to protect our health and that of our kids. Inspired by President Bush’s personal dedication to physical fitness, the Department of Health and Human Services on October 7, 2008, published Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans based on a comprehensive review and analysis of the latest research.

“It’s important for all Americans to be active, and the guidelines are a roadmap to include physical activity in their daily routine,” HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said in a news release. “The evidence is clear—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.”

The evidence is strong and growing; for more details, see http://www.cbass.com/MiracleMovement.htm

HHS says exercise makes you feel stronger and more alive. That’s true.

Let’s take a look at some of the details. Almost all the guidelines are right on the mark.

Most adults will gain substantial health benefits from two and one half hours a week of moderate aerobic activity or an hour and 15 minutes of vigorous physical activity. That’s the center piece, the headline finding/guideline.

The guidelines offer plenty of flexibility. You decide what works best for you. Unlike previous recommendations, people get to design their own way of meeting the guidelines. That's important, because choice will get far more people on board than a more rigid prescription. It’s the government’s version of the ownership principle. To learn about the ownership principle:  http://www.cbass.com/SELECTIO.HTM

Here’s how the flexible guidelines work:

You can spread activity over 3, 5, or more days a week—and do anything that makes your heart beat faster for at least 10 minutes: dancing, biking on level ground, gardening, tennis (doubles), walking briskly, and water aerobics are examples. While doing moderate aerobic activities, you should be able to talk, but not sing. With vigorous activities (hiking uphill, fast biking, singles tennis and the like) you can only say a few words without stopping to catch your breath. You can also do a combination of moderate and vigorous exercise.

If you have not been active, you are encouraged to start slowly and build up to the recommended amount of exercise. If you have a disability or health problem, you are encouraged to do what you can manage. You may also want to do more than the threshold recommendations

Some physical activity is better than none; the more physically active you are, the more benefits you reap. According to the guidelines, health benefits increase with “higher intensity, greater frequency, and/or longer duration.” In short, the more the better. That’s probably good advice for most people. It misses the mark, however, for some highly motivated individuals.

I would add a proviso that too much high intensity exercise leads to overtraining and diminished returns. The same goes for moderate exercise. You can overdo a good thing, and many do. Generally speaking, you can train long or hard, but not both.

The guidelines say those who chose to do vigorous exercise can reduce duration by half. That's good advice.

Adults should do muscle-strengthening activities, such as weight training, push-ups, carrying heavy loads and heavy gardening, at least two days a week. That probably would not have been included a little more than a decade ago. Now, however, it’s clearly in accord with the latest scientific findings; see http://www.cbass.com/Biomarkers.htm and other articles in our Strength Training category.

Children and adolescents should participate in one hour or more of physical activity per day. Kids are naturally inclined to run around and be more active than adults. That inclination should be encouraged on a daily basis, including vigorous activity at least three days a week. Muscle- and bone-strengthening activities should be included at least three days a week.

Schools that are cutting back on recess and gym time are way behind the curve; see “Zero-hour PE” http://www.cbass.com/RebootBrain.htm

I’ve only scratched the surface of the wealth of information in the new Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. For many more details: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/default.aspx

If you’re not exercising regularly, get moving. It’s never too late to start.    

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