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What does it mean to be physically active? Simple: to move more and sit less. That’s according to the new Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The recommendations issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) promote exercise for individuals from three years of age through older adults. Physical activity encourages normal growth and development for children and slashes the risk of chronic conditions as we age.

Research also shows people generally feel healthier, sleep more soundly and function better as a result. Plus, moving more benefits just about everyone from men and women of any race and ethnicity to young children and pregnant women.

Physical activity helps prevent or reduces the risk of:

  • 8 cancers including bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, stomach and lung
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Cardiovascular issues such as stroke, heart disease and high blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Depression including postpartum depression
  • Falls and fall-related injuries
  • Weight gain
  • Insomnia

Even people with disabilities or individuals already living with a chronic condition can reap the benefits of an active lifestyle. Moving more can help manage conditions such as:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Dementia
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
  • Parkinson’s disease

A group of researchers dubbed the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee developed the recommendations after conducting reviews of scientific literature on health and physical activity. Group members met periodically in public session to discuss their findings. HHS used their findings to publish the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. You can find it along with an “Executive Summary” and “Top 10 Things to Know” here.

Key guidelines are as follows:

Adults — Some physical activity is better than none, but moderate to vigorous exercise offers the biggest benefits. Consider 150 to 300 minutes (or 30 minutes to an hour five days a week) of moderate aerobic activity such as walking or dancing. Add in muscle strengthening like weight lifting or push-ups twice a week.

Older adults — Apply the same guidelines for adults but add in balance training. For seniors with chronic conditions, be as physically active as possible.

Parents should encourage children to work out as well, the guidelines say. Kids ages 6 to 17 should shoot for one hour a day of moderate to vigorous activity like walking or running. They should also participate in muscle and bone strengthening activities such as tennis, basketball or simply climbing on playground equipment. Younger children ages 3 to 5 should play at a variety of activities for three hours a day.

The report also includes safety guidelines to reduce injury risk. Choose activities that work for your current fitness level and increase gradually. Anyone new to exercise should “start slow and go slow.” Wear appropriate sports gear and exercise in safe environments. Individuals with chronic conditions should talk with their healthcare provider or consult a physical activity specialist before starting an exercise regimen. To kick off the new guidelines, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion created the Move Your Way campaign for consumers. Resources include videos, fact sheets and interactive tools.

Whether you choose to walk, run, dance or play, as long as you keep moving, you’ll reap health benefits for years to come.

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