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Official physical activity guidelines have changed, here’s all you need to know

The US Government has just updated its physical activity guidelines for all age groups. Here’s everything you need to know.

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Most of us are aware that we are supposed to exercise at least 30 minutes per day, five days a week. Few know, though, where these recommendations come from. They are published in something called the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. This is a US Government document that provides evidence-based guidance to help people maintain or improve their health.

The publication has been around for around a decade. It’s changed throughout the years and now the Office for Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has published a complete new second edition. If you’ve got time or are bored at work, you can read the 100+ page pdf on this link.

So what’s changed?

The baseline recommendations for active adults and older adults are still the same. Each week they need anywhere between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. This equates to around 2,000 steps per day of brisk walking as a minimum. But it might be time to dust off that gym membership card! Ideally, such activity should be combined with muscle-strengthening such as lifting weights or doing push-ups – at least twice each week.

The guidelines for adults have slightly changed in the sense that they now integrate findings on the importance of sitting less. Modern televisions, computers, and automobiles have forced people to spend far longer sitting down than standing up. Needless to say, that’s not a good thing. More than one-half of an average person’s day is spent being sedentary.

“We looked at sedentary behavior and found a relationship between sitting time and mortality,” says William Kraus, MD, one of the committee members for the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report and a professor at Duke University.

“The impact is exponential—it’s really frightening. Even if you have a desk job, try to get up from your chair whenever possible, like to chat with a colleague in person instead of picking up the phone.”

The original Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans stated that only 10-minute bouts of physical activity counted toward meeting the daily guidelines. That’s changed now. The new edition encourages adults to move frequently through the day, regardless of duration. All of this helps to offset the negative effects of sitting for too long. This is where “Move Reminders” from activity trackers can help.

“We found that every minute of movement that’s moderate intensity or more counts—it doesn’t have to be done in a 10-minute chunk,” added Dr. Kraus.

“That’s incredibly freeing.”

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The document also features recommendations for other age groups. There are new key guidelines for children ages 3 through 5 and updated guidelines for the 6 to 17 year olds.

Parents should encourage pre-school aged children to play. And no, we do not mean video games. The emphasis is on active play of light to vigorous intensity for at least 3 hours each day. This is important to enhance their growth and development.

Teenagers should still aim for at least 60 daily minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity. Even walking counts as it makes their hearts beat faster. Of course its good to mix this up with more intense activity as this will make their muscles and bones stronger. Playing soccer, tennis, jumping rope and climbing on playground equipment are good examples.

That’s it in a nutshell. The new guidelines are clear. Everyone should move more and sit less in order to stay healthy and reduce their risk of chronic diseases. Additional benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond these recommendations.

A fitness tracker or smartwatch can help quantify your efforts and it may provide you with the added incentive to meet these new guidelines. There’s also an increasing range of devices to choose from for children and teenagers.

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