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Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2008

Be Active Your Way

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Updated September 28, 2011

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, encourages Americans to "be active your way," with recommended exercise levels among a variety of physical activities.

The guidelines are based on research on the health benefits of exercise and the concern about high numbers of inactive adults and children. Each age group can have substantial health benefits by following the guidelines.

Exercise for Children and Adolescents (ages 6 to 17)

Exercise for Adults (ages 18 to 64)

  • Each Week: Do 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate-intensity (such as brisk walking) or 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity (such as running) or an equivalent combination of moderate-intensity and vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. These aerobic activities should be done for at least 10 minutes at a time, and it is best to spread them out throughout the week.
  • You get more health benefits by increasing to 5 hours (300 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both.
  • 2 or More Days a Week: Do muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups two or more days per week.

Exercise for Older Adults (ages 65 and older)

  • Follow the adult guidelines.
  • Do exercises that maintain or improve balance if you are at risk of falls.
  • If you have a chronic condition that makes exercise difficult, do as much as you can manage to do and avoid inactivity.

Do You Need a Doctor's Advice?

The health benefits of exercise far outweigh the risks, according to the guidelines. Some activity is better than no activity. If you do not have a diagnosed chronic condition or symptoms, such as chest pain, dizziness or joint pain, you don't need to consult your doctor about starting an exercise program.

Exercise for Adults with Disabilities

Follow the adult guidelines. If this is not possible, these persons should be as physically active as their abilities allow. They should avoid inactivity.

Exercise for Children and Adolescents with Disabilities

Discuss physical activity with the child's health care provider to find the appropriate kind of physical activity for them. If possible, try to meet the guideline amounts for children and adolescents. Avoid inactivity.

Exercise for Pregnant and Postpartum Women

The minimum recommendation for healthy women is at least 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Women who have been enjoying vigorous-intensity activity or higher amounts of activity can continue to do so through pregnancy unless they have a change in condition.

Health Benefits of Exercise

What is the evidence that physical activity reduces your health risks and improves your quality of life? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rates the evidence of scientific studies.

Health Benefits of Exercise for Adults and Older Adults

Strong Evidence of Health Benefits
  • Lower risk of:
    • Early death
    • Heart disease
    • Stroke
    • Type 2 diabetes
    • High blood pressure
    • Adverse blood lipid profile
    • Metabolic syndrome
    • Colon and breast cancers
  • Prevention of weight gain
  • Weight loss when combined with diet
  • Improved cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness
  • Prevention of falls
  • Reduced depression
  • Better cognitive function (older adults)
Moderate to Strong Evidence of Health Benefits of Exercise
  • Better functional health (older adults)
  • Reduced abdominal obesity
Moderate Evidence
  • Weight maintenance after weight loss
  • Lower risk of hip fracture
  • Increased bone density
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Lower risk of lung and endometrial cancers

Health Benefits of Exercise for Children and Adolescents

Strong Evidence
  • Improved cardiorespiratory endurance and muscular fitness
  • Favorable body composition
  • Improved bone health
  • Improved cardiovascular and metabolic health biomarkers
Moderate Evidence
  • Reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression

Source: 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, Office of Disease Prevention & Health Promotion, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. updated 10/7/2008. Accessed 10/9/2008.

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