You Can Do It! Just 2.5 Hours of Physical Activity a Week Makes a Big Difference

Regular exercise is a large component of maintaining health for people with type 2 diabetes and, let’s face it, everyone else. According to the new “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans” written by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), adults need at least two-and-a-half hours every week of moderate aerobic physical activity. Children should have at least one hour of physical activity every day.

The government guidelines are intended to make it simple for people to fit physical activity into their daily plan by doing activities they enjoy.

The adult guidelines can be read online at the very helpful website. HHS reccomends spreading aerobic activity out over at least three days a week. Each activity should be done for at least ten minutes at a time. The website suggests tips on ways to exercise and how to find the time. For example, strengthening exercises can be done with resistance bands, regular weights, or even common grocery items such as bags of rice, vegetable or soup cans, or bottled water.

The best way to not “fall off the wagon” is to exercise regularly with a friend or like-minded group. Just knowing that the other person expects you to show up makes all the difference.

In a press release announcing the new guidelines, HHS reminds Americans that “regular physical activity reduces the risk in adults of early death, coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, colon and breast cancer, and depression. It can improve thinking ability in older adults and the ability to engage in activities needed for daily living. The recommended amount of physical activity in children and adolescents improves cardio-respiratory and muscular fitness as well as bone health and contributes to favorable body composition.”

“The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans” are the most comprehensive of their kind, according to the press release. “They are based on the first thorough review of scientific research about physical activity and health in more than a decade. A 13-member advisory committee appointed in April 2007 by Secretary Leavitt reviewed research and produced an extensive report.”

The Guidelines include the following suggestions:

Children and Adolescents: Kids should participate in one hour or more of moderate or vigorous aerobic physical activity a day, including vigorous intensity physical activity at least three days a week.

Moderate intensity aerobic activities include hiking, skateboarding, bicycle riding, and brisk walking.

Vigorous intensity aerobic activities include bicycle riding, jumping rope, running, and sports such as soccer, basketball, and ice or field hockey.

Children and adolescents should incorporate muscle-strengthening activities, such as rope climbing, sit-ups, and tug-of war, three days a week. Bone-strengthening activities, such as jumping rope, running, and skipping, are recommended three days a week. 

Adults: Adults gain significant health benefits from two-and-one-half hours a week of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous physical activity.

Moderate intensity aerobic activities include walking briskly, water aerobics, ballroom dancing, and general gardening.

Vigorous intensity aerobic activities include racewalking, jogging or running, swimming laps, jumping rope, and hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack.

For even greater health benefits, adults should work toward increasing their aerobic physical activity to five hours a week of moderate intensity or two-and-one-half hours a week of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity.

The guidelines recommend that adults also do muscle-strengthening activities, such as weight training, push-ups, sit-ups, and carrying heavy loads or heavy gardening, at least two days a week.

Older adults: Older adults should follow the guidelines for other adults if they are physically able. Otherwise, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow. If they are at risk of falling, they should also do exercises that maintain or improve balance.

There are guidelines for more groups (pregnant women, people with chronic illnesses, etc.) and some great resources on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Guideline website. You can download helpful information, fact sheets, and guides on how to fit sustainable physical activity into your life.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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