Health Notes: New federal guidelines pump up exercise recommendations

Forget about gardening or leisurely dog walks to get enough exercise for good health. New federal guidelines released Oct. 7 have revised the standards, raising the bar on not only the amount of physical activity recommended, but also on what to do, how often, how hard and who should do it.
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Forget about gardening or leisurely dog walks to get enough exercise for good health. New federal guidelines released Oct. 7 have revised the standards, raising the bar on not only the amount of physical activity recommended, but also on what to do, how often, how hard and who should do it.

And sports medicine professionals are rejoicing. Long endorsing more vigorous guidelines, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) nevertheless stood behind the credo of “something is better than nothing” when it came to the former, rather vague federal standards that simply told people to do something of a moderate level for at least 30 minutes on “most days of the week.” Those standards also never mentioned the need to include muscle-strengthening exercises.

“It’s important for all Americans to be active, and the guidelines are a roadmap to include physical activity in their daily routine,” said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt in a statement. “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.”

Despite the step-up in recommendations, researchers with the federal government, ACSM and the American Heart Association (AHA) all still stressed that getting somebody started with even a moderate quantity and at a moderate intensity is good for overall health. But more will bring more gains.

“Guidelines for physical activity have long been based on research demonstrating that even relatively moderate amounts of physical activity will have positive benefits on health,” said William Haskell, Ph.D., and lead author of the ACSM/AHA guidelines that had continued to recommend more, when possible, despite a message that “something is better than nothing.” “A very important idea, especially for people who are inactive, is that health and physical activity are closely linked. The more days a week that you can be active or accumulate some activity, the higher the value for your health and wellness.”

The new guidelines in summary state:

>> Adults should aim for at least 2 ½ hours of “moderate” physical activity a week up to five hours a week. Moderate was defined as, for example, water aerobics or walking briskly. That means on average from 30 to 60 minutes on five days during a week. If the activity is “vigorous,” then adults should log at least 75 minutes a week and up to 2 ½ hours. Vigorous was defined as, for example, running, race walking, hiking uphill with a pack or swimming laps. That translates on average into three days a week for 25 minutes up to about five days a week for 30 minutes.

>> Adults should also incorporate weekly muscle-strengthening exercises into their routines. Long recommended by the ACSM, the federal standards now state the minimum of twice a week of moderate to vigorous weight-training or other strengthening activities that cover all major muscle groups. This could mean formal exercises with weights, routines that include rubber resistance, the use of a person’s own body weight with push-ups or crunches, or alternative activity such as heavy gardening or yard work.

>> Children and adolescents should be moderately to vigorously active for an hour at least three days a week. They should also incorporate muscle- and bone-strengthening exercises into their activity three days a week.

>> Older adults, who in the past were not called out, don’t get to slack off: The new federal standards state they too should follow the recommendations for all adults as much as they can. But, if limited, should do as much as they can. If falling is a risk, the routines should include balance-improvement movements.

The newly released guidelines -- the most comprehensive ever and the first based on a thorough review of scientific research in more than a decade -- will now be used to guide U.S. policy development, experts said.

To read more detail about the guidelines, click here.

SNEWS® View: Although dog-walking and gardening can still be done at moderate and even vigorous levels, it took a dozen years for the science to step in and offer Americans more specific recommendations. Luckily for the fitness industry and for other industries based on physical activity, the newest guidelines tell the public that a lolly-gaging stroll or a little putter among the plants won’t cut it if they want to gain better health or lose weight. Sure, strolling and puttering are great -- to repeat, something is better than nothing -- but a little intensity and little more frequency will better get the job done. The industries affected should be able to use this news to their benefit. And if U.S. policy follows, the industries should also see some participation gains in the future.

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