For the first time in 10 years the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services has given its guidelines for physical activity a refresher, after a year and a half of systematic reviews of scientific data. While most of the 2018 guidelines published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in November remain the same, the new report strongly drives home one central message – moving is good, sitting still is bad.
Experts who penned the report still recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity (say, like brisk walking) each week, or 75 minutes to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, like cycling. An equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity works too. The guidelines also continue to emphasize the importance of a balanced exercise routine, including striving for two or more days of strength training a week, in addition to aerobic exercise.
Unfortunately 50 percent of Americans don’t meet the recommended 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity and 30 percent of people report no physical activity at all. The advisory committee hopes the 2018 report will serve as an alarm bell to wake up Americans to the importance of regular physical activity to their overall health.
Another noteworthy change to the committee’s recommendation has to do with minimum exercise increments. Previous guidelines stated that exercise should be done in at least 10-minute increments. The new report sets no minimum exercise duration as long as the combined total of exercise minutes adds up to the 150 to 300 per week. The goal of the new guidelines is to get everyone moving, no matter what amount of time they may have. So that means every time you take the stairs instead of the elevator, even that small, 2-minute bout of exercise will count toward your overall total.
Though the hope is that all Americans will meet the recommended guidelines, it is also just as important that people become active and start moving more than they are sitting. In other words, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The road to living a healthy, fit life can truly start with one step… after another, after another – until even the most sedentary couch potato is hitting their physical activity goals.
It’s important to consider a few things before you start a new exercise routine.
Check Your Health. Consult your doctor and get a physical examination before starting an exercise routine. This is particularly important for individuals who are not used to strenuous physical activities, as well as those aged 45 and over. A checkup can help detect any health problems or conditions that could put you at risk.
Make a Plan and Set Realistic Goals. Once you decide to start exercising regularly, try to create a plan that includes attainable steps and goals. One way to do this is to start with a plan that has easy, attainable steps, and then continue building on it as your fitness level improves. For example, if your goal is to finish a 5K, start with shorter runs. Once you are able to finish those short runs, increase the distance until you reach your goal. Starting with small goals will not only increase your chances of success, it will also keep you motivated every step of the way.
Make It a Habit. Another key component of exercise success is to stick to your routine. It is easier for most people to maintain an exercise routine if they make it a habit and do it the same time each day. That’s not realistic for everybody, so develop a plan that works best for your life and your schedule. Remember, according to the new Physical Activity Guidelines, you don’t have to do all of your exercise at one time each day. If spreading your workout throughout the day works better for you, you will be more likely to keep it up.