The New Exercise Guidelines

It’s likely you already know that regular exercise helps prevent chronic disease, such as diabetes and heart problems, while improving your overall health, mood, and quality of life. It can sharpen mental function, boost concentration, and help you sleep. And the new exercise and physical activity guidelines issued by the federal government’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion show that the dose required to gain these benefits is not hard to achieve.

What should your exercise goals be?

The amount of exercise and mix of activities recommended varies depending on age and ability, as described more fully below. It ranges from a high of three hours daily — for preschoolers, who tend to love activity — to 150 minutes a week.

Unfortunately, 80% of the population is not meeting the guidelines. Each year in the US, an estimated 10% of premature deaths and $117 billion in healthcare costs are associated with inadequate physical activity. A data analysis published in JAMA in April 2019 found that between 2007 and 2016, total daily sitting time for adolescents and adults increased by roughly an hour.

Besides saving money on healthcare, there are many personal benefits to staying active. The new guidelines highlight other new evidence-based findings related to physical activity and exercise.

What changed in the new exercise guidelines?

Overall, move more, sit less. Work toward reducing the amount of time you spend sitting every day. If you have a desk job, get up to walk around regularly, or try chair yoga or a few desk exercises.

All activity counts toward the recommended goals — not just 10-minute bouts of activity, as past guidelines recommended.

Younger people and older people may benefit in different ways from exercise. It facilitates normal growth and development for preschoolers through teens, strengthening bones and muscles and improving cardiovascular health.

Older adults who participate in regular exercise have better balance, and lower risks of falling and injury, thus improving their ability to remain independent.

The new guidelines base your dose of physical activity on relative intensity: how much effort a given exercise takes compared with your capacity for exercise.

A brisk walk counts as moderate physical activity (think: fast enough so that you can speak comfortably, but not sing). The speed of this walk will be much faster for someone who is in shape than for someone who is just starting to exercise or getting back to activity after a break.

But no matter where the starting line is, most people can safely improve their fitness and health. Begin with lower amounts of exercise and slowly increase duration, intensity, and frequency.

For example, if you:

Have been bed-bound, start by walking two minutes every 10 to 15 minutes (during commercial breaks when watching TV or listening to the radio).
Typically walk for exercise, try adding an extra block to your regimen once a week.

Jog, try going at your regular pace for five minutes, then increasing it for one minute.

What stayed the same in the new exercise guidelines?

Exercise is safe for almost everyone — even people with chronic disease and disabilities. Different types of exercise have complementary benefits:

Aerobic activity, like walking, running, or cycling, improves cardiovascular health. It involves movement of the large muscles of the body for sustained periods of time.

Muscle-strengthening activity, like resistance training with elastic bands or weight lifting, improves muscle strength, endurance, power, and mass.

Bone-strengthening activity, like running, playing basketball, resistance training, or jumping rope, improves bone health and strength.

Balance activity, like walking backwards, standing on one leg, yoga, and tai chi, can reduce fall risk.

Multicomponent physical activity, like running, dancing, or playing tennis includes at least two of the above types of activity.

Rating the intensity of activities is simple. During:

- Light activity, you don’t feel like you’re exerting yourself.
- Moderate activity, you can talk comfortably, but not sing.
- Intense activity, you can say a few words, but not full sentences. Within the guidelines, one minute of intense activity is roughly equivalent to two minutes of moderate activity.