fitness · health

The real news from the US physical activity guidelines: everything counts.

Last week, an updated report with the newest physical guidelines for physical activity for everyone was released by the US Department of Health and Human Services. The last edition came out 10 years ago, and the new version, informed by the latest research, is saying this:

Move more. Sit less. Do all kinds of activity– aerobic, muscle strengthening, bone strengthening, balancing (this one’s very important for older people), and multi-component activities that combine these features.

Aim to do 150–300 minutes a week of a combo of moderate-intensity to vigorous-intensity level activity. This means anything from walking 2–4mph to running.  Cycling and swimming, depending on speed and effort, can vary. Lower-intensity activities are good, too, although more intense activity is needed to get the most benefits.

Why should we do this? The guidelines give us the low-down (this was from a JAMA article):

Strong evidence demonstrates that regular physical activity has health benefits for everyone, regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity, or body size. Some benefits occur immediately, such as reduced feelings of anxiety, reduced blood pressure, and improved sleep, cognitive function, and insulin sensitivity. Other benefits, such as increased cardiorespiratory fitness, increased muscular strength, decreased depressive symptoms, and sustained reduction in blood pressure, accrue over months or years of physical activity.

So, we get benefits now and benefits later.  Immediately we feel calmer, clearer, more ready for good sleep, and metabolically in better shape. Over time, we get lowered risks of all sorts of bad health outcomes, from bone fractures to dementia to cardiovascular disease and on.

This advice holds for everyone– small children, teenagers, pregnant women, older adults, people with chronic illness, people with disabilities– everyone. 

A new message for this version: everything counts.  Every minute of walking.  Every flight of stairs. Every time you park far away from a building. Every load of laundry you haul around. It all adds up, and it is all beneficial for us.

That’s really good news.  And it’s important.  Why?

Because, right now, only 20% of Americans engage in physical activity that meets the guidelines. It looks like this:

2 out of 10– the two are in gray…

In Canada it’s the same– a 2016 report showed that only 2 out of 10 Canadians meet their physical guidelines of 60 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous exercise. 

Why is that?

Probably everyone who reads this blog knows how hard it is to start and continue an exercise or activity program from scratch. Here’s what some of them look like:

These look rather daunting to me, and I’m usually one of those gray persons who meets the physical activity guidelines.

I wonder what it would be like if governments released a tl:dr version of the guidelines that just said this:

Move. Everything counts.

I even generated a meme for it:

Move.  Everything counts. Picture of a woman’s feet in flip flops, with blue jeans on.

You’re welcome, US and Canada! Other countries– you may borrow this as well.

Readers, how much or how often do you pay attention to or work on extending your everyday movement in your lives (apart from anything organized, like classes, rides, swims, gym workouts, etc.)?   I’m curious to know if and how and when it figures into your activity.

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