Report: HHS Issues Physical Activity Guidelines 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its updated Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans for the first time in a decade.

The document provides “key guidelines” for various demographics, including breakdowns by age and activity type:

Key Guidelines for Preschool-Aged Children

Three-to-five year olds “should be physically active throughout the day to enhance growth and development,” according to the HHS. Parents and caregivers should encourage an active lifestyle that includes a different activity types.

Key Guidelines for Children and Adolescents

Adolescents between ages six and 17 years should aim for an hour of daily “moderate-to-vigorous” activity that includes a combination of aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening exercises, each of which should be performed at least three days a week.

Key Guidelines for Adults

In adults, any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity provides more health benefits than being sedentary; the HHS notes, “Some physical activity is better than none.” Each week, adults should aim for at least 2.5 to five hours of moderate-intensity, 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous-intensity, or “an equivalent combination” of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise. Exceeding the recommended times is advantageous. In addition, adults should participate in moderately intense or greater muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week.

Key Guidelines for Older Adults

Older adults should shoot for the same weekly target as younger adults and should also evaluate their effort level relative to their personal fitness. Additionally, HHS suggests balance training also be part of older adults’ exercise routine.

“Older adults with chronic conditions should understand whether and how their conditions affect

their ability to do regular physical activity safely,” the guidelines state. “When older adults cannot do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week because of chronic conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.”

Key Guidelines for Women During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period

Pregnant and postpartum women should engage in at least 1.5 hours of weekly moderate-intensity aerobic activity, ideally spread throughout the week. Vigorously active women prior to pregnancy can maintain their normal fitness level during and after pregnancy. Pregnant women should be under the watch of a healthcare provider who they can consult with on any necessary activity adjustments during and after pregnancy.

Key Guidelines for Adults with Chronic Health Conditions and Adults with Disabilities

If they are able to, adults with chronic health conditions or disabilities should engage in the same aerobic activity levels as healthy adults, as well as at least two days a week dedicated to moderate-intensity muscle-strengthening activities involving all the major muscle groups. If the recommendations cannot be met, they should perform physical activity “according to their abilities and should avoid inactivity,” HHS states.

The full guidelines are available for download on HHS’ website, and a summary of them also appears in JAMA. In an accompanying editorial to the JAMA summary, Paul D. Thompson, MD, of the Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn., and Thijs M. H. Eijsvogels, PhD, of the Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands, said the biggest takeaway from the guidelines is that any amount of exercise is better than nothing at all—but that the suggested amounts are attainable for most populations.

“Multiple studies demonstrate that the steepest reduction in disease risk, such as for coronary heart disease, occurs at the lowest levels of physical activity,” the authors wrote. “Patients need to understand that even small amounts of physical activity are beneficial and that reductions in the risk of disease and disability occur by simply getting moving. […] [The suggested] levels of activity are possible for most healthy people.”

The authors also said that healthcare providers should take an active role in prescribing exercise to their patients.

“Physicians and other educators in academic health care centers should ensure that there is sufficient training about the benefits of exercise and physical activity to make future practitioners comfortable with prescribing exercise as an important component of a healthy life,” they wrote.

Physical Activity Decreases Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Type 2 Diabetes Even in Children

Association of Exercise With Mortality in Adult Survivors of Childhood Cancer

Study Links Exercise With Reduced Mortality in Childhood Cancer Survivors

Physical Activity after Bariatric Surgery Associated with Better Physical Outcomes

Sources: HHS, JAMA