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Latest Federal Guidelines Reflect New Thinking About Exercise

The new federal guidelines emphasize movement, from a gym workout to everyday things like walking the dog.

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department has released a new set of exercise guidelines. It reflects the agency’s new way of thinking about exercise.

Most Americans didn’t meet the recommendations in 2008 for the amount of time HHS said you should spend exercising.

Margaret Bryant, a physical therapist with Parkland Hospital System, says the agency has since learned more about what can count as exercise.

The guidelines still recommend healthy adults should put in two and a half to five hours a week. In 2008, no less than ten minutes of activity at a time counted toward the overall goal. The new guidelines allow as few as five.

They don't specify what kind of activity you should pursue.

“The idea that we need to, overall, be less sedentary and more up and on our feet and moving is where we needed to move the focus,” said Bryant. “So, just get our bodies moving. The daily things that we do to get through life – getting out of bed, walking to the car or walking to the grocery store, getting gas in our car – is movement.”


What HHS has learned about exercise since 2008 guidelines: “We were educated in 2008 that exercise bouts needed to be within a ten minute time frame. The part that didn’t change from this new update is the amount of time you need to exercise. For healthy adults, two and a half hours to five hours per week. You could break those up however it works. But we kept saying ten minutes of continuous movement counts towards those total minutes you needed. Now the Health and Human Services department has better defined exercise for us as minimal as even five minutes.”

Guidelines for other groups:

  • Children, ages 3 – 5: “Children as early as three should be doing at least a moderate level of activity for three hours every day. What that means is adults and caregivers need to really encourage active play - going to the park, learning to ride a bike, up and down slides – the normal things children do.”
  • Ages 6 -17: “At least one hour per day of moderate activity. Moderate level of activity gets us into what’s categorized as aerobic activity. You need to move at a quick enough pace that you can feel your heart rate going up some.”
  • Pregnant women: “If a woman who is pregnant is already doing moderate to vigorous level of activity, they can continue that level throughout their pregnancy and into postpartum. Women who were not at that level are encouraged now to spend 150 minutes per week doing moderate level of activity.”
  • No harm to the child? “Well, what also needs to be emphasized is every woman who is pregnant needs to have regular health wellness checks.”
  • People with chronic disease: “At least 150 minutes of moderate level activity per week. That’s within the limitations of what they know is going on in their chronic disease processes. The health benefits can help prevent cancers, cardiac disease, and some of those chronic diseases in general like diabetes, for example. If we can stay in this range of activity level then we can decrease our chances for some of those diseases and chronic states.”
  • One more recommendation – muscle strengthening: “Being able to do some resistive exercises like moving your body weight in a push-up, even going into the kitchen and getting a can of soup, a bag of flour. Out of your seven day week, two days of the week is recommended to do some strengthening. It’s important for our muscles and our bone health. When our muscles contract and pull on those bones, that helps keep joints moving and it helps keep the strength in the muscles. If we’re not doing that, then we can get weak.”


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Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.