CHICAGO (AP) — Move more, sit less and get kids active as young as age 3, say new federal guidelines that stress that any amount and any type of exercise helps health.
The advice is the first update since the government’s physical activity guidelines came out a decade ago. Since then, the list of benefits of exercise has grown, and there’s more evidence to back things that were of unknown value before, such as short, high-intense workouts and taking the stairs instead of an elevator.
“Doing something is better than doing nothing, and doing more is better than doing something,” said Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, a preventive medicine expert at Northwestern University in Chicago.
Only 20 percent of Americans get enough exercise now, and the childhood obesity problem has prompted the push to aim younger to prevent poor health later in life.
Highlights of the advice released Monday at an American Heart Association conference in Chicago and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association:
CHILDREN AND TEENS
The biggest change: Start young. Guidelines used to begin at age 6, but the new ones say preschoolers ages 3 through 5 should be encouraged to take part in active play throughout the day. They don’t call for a certain amount but say a reasonable target may be three hours of various intensities. That’s consistent with guidelines in many other countries and is the average amount of activity observed in kids this age.
From ages 6 through 17, at least an hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity throughout the day is recommended. Most of it should be aerobic, the kind that gets the heart rate up such as brisk walking, biking or running. At least three times a week, exercise should be vigorous and include muscle- and bone-strengthening activities like climbing on playground equipment or playing sports.
Duration stays the same — at least 2½ to 5 hours of moderate-intensity or 1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours of vigorous activity a week, plus at least two days that include muscle-strengthening exercise like pushups or lifting weights.
One key change: It used to be thought that aerobic activity had to be done for at least 10 minutes. Now even short times are known to help. Even a single episode of activity gives short-term benefits such as lowering blood pressure, reducing anxiety and improving sleep.
Sitting a lot is especially harmful.
The advice is similar for older adults, but activities should include things that promote balance to help avoid falls.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE LETTER E
Targeting young children is the goal of a project that Dr. Valentin Fuster, a cardiologist at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, has worked on for years with the Heart Association and Sesame Workshop, producers of television’s “Sesame Street.”
At the heart conference, he gave results of an intensive four-month program to improve knowledge and attitudes about exercise and health among 562 kids ages 3 to 5 in Head Start preschools in Harlem.
“It was really successful,” Fuster said. “Once they understand how the body works, they begin to understand physical activity” and its importance.
When brains are young, “it’s the best opportunity” to set health habits that last, he said.
Marilynn Marchione can be followed at MMarchioneAP
The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Move more, sit less – great advice, but how can we make time for exercise?
November 13, 2018
David E. Conroy
Professor of Kinesiology and Human Development (Adjunct Professor of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University), Pennsylvania State University
Professor of Allied Health Sciences, University of Connecticut
David E. Conroy receives funding from the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation. He is affiliated with The Pennsylvania State University and Northwestern University.
Sherry Pagoto receives research funding from the National Institutes of Health. She is a paid scientific adviser for Fitbit.
Pennsylvania State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
University of Connecticut provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
It’s that time again. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services just released a new edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. That sound you hear is Americans collectively sighing.
Let’s be honest: Physical activity guidelines can be tough. As behavioral scientists with expertise in exercise motivation, we will be the first to admit that maintaining a physically active lifestyle isn’t easy. This is what we do, and we don’t even always hit the goal. Life is messy and often gets way of even the best intentions. Let’s take a deep breath, unwrap these new guidelines and talk strategy.
The guidelines recommend that all adults do at least 150 minutes per week of physical activity at an intensity that elevates the heart rate. Older adults should add balance exercises. And with the exception of women who are pregnant or nursing, adults should lift weights using all major muscle groups at least twice a week.
The guidelines also recommend that school-aged children and adolescents be active for 180 minutes per week. Preschoolers should be active throughout the day. Right now you might be thinking, who has time for all this exercise?
The good news
The good news is that the guidelines now recognize that fitting in big blocks of time for exercise is not necessary to get health benefits. For the first time, the guidelines don’t require that physical activity occurs in bouts of 10 consecutive minutes or more to be valid. All activity counts. So that climb up and down the stairs at work every day counts toward your goal (as long as you’re raising your heart rate).
The new guidelines also emphasize a “move more, sit less” message to encourage everyone to do just a little more physical activity and to spend a little bit less time sitting. Physical activity isn’t all or nothing. Every little bit comes with health benefits, so if reaching the guideline seems overwhelming, that’s OK. Just try to do a bit more than you did yesterday. Improvement counts as success whether you meet the guidelines or not.
But how? And when?
If you feel the guidelines are overwhelming, you are not alone – this is one of the most common complaints about the guidelines we hear from the thousands of people we have studied and counseled in exercise programs. People often feel hopeless about changing their lifestyle dramatically. One way to tackle a large goal is to break it down into smaller pieces.
Consider a marathon runner. No new runner starts off running 26 miles; each one has to build up to it. They break monstrous goals into smaller pieces that increase steadily over many months. You can approach the new physical activity guidelines in the same way. By tracking your progress, using incrementally more challenging goals, and celebrating milestones of achievement, you can move yourself closer to reaching the big goal.
The first goal you set should be a pretty easy goal – so easy you should be thinking, “Oh, come on! That is too easy!” Say, for example, you get about 30 minutes of exercise per week. Could you increase to 35 minutes per week for the next three weeks? Once you’ve nailed 35 minutes for 2-3 weeks, bump it up to 40 minutes. The idea here is that you are building slowly, getting used to each step before moving onto the next step. Each step is also enhancing your physical fitness and conditioning so the next step won’t feel much more difficult than the one before. From a time management perspective, sneaking in an extra five minutes here and there is also far easier than finding time blocks of 30 to 60 minutes.
If you are far from 150 minutes right now, forget about 150 right now. Come up with a goal that is “Oh, come on!” easy and then go from there. You can track your progress with wearable devices, smartphone apps or good old-fashioned pen and paper. However you track your progress, it is important to have a plan that you can track and keep trying to raise the bar for yourself – ever so gently.
The best thing you can do for your health
The experts call physical activity the “best buy” in public health. And the guidelines are based on evidence from thousands of studies. Based on this evidence, an expert panel concluded that exercise increases our lifespans, prevents that sneaky annual weight gain and reduces the risk of almost every chronic disease: cardiovascular disease, diabetes and many cancers. No other single behavior can do as much good for your health. By investing some time into exercise now, you get to cash in later. Think of it as the 401K for a long, healthy and happy life.
Of course, we don’t always make decisions in our long-term self-interest. We are wired more toward immediate rewards, and many health benefits of physical activity take years to appear. Some may be hard to notice at all, like preventing heart disease.
Fortunately, exercise has many immediate benefits. One of the biggest is the “feel good” effect afterwards. People consistently feel more focused, less stressed and more energized after physical activity. In fact, studies now show that regular physical activity can actually reduce anxiety and depression – with effects equal to antidepressant medication or psychotherapy. We are all just one workout away from feeling better than we do right now.
One word of caution: Be careful not to push too hard too soon. Exercising hard can feel unpleasant. Most people don’t repeat activities that feel unpleasant. Find something you enjoy and keep it fun if you want that behavior change to stick. When you hear all the news about the new physical activity guidelines, try not to let it discourage you. Set the numbers aside for now and just ask yourself, “How can I move a little more and sit a little less than I do now – and how can I make it fun?”
You got this.