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Recommendations for Physical Activity

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released physical activity guidelines for all Americans aged 6 and older.

The "2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans" explain that regular physical activity improves health. They encourage people to be as active as possible.

The guidelines recommend the types and amounts of physical activity that children, adults, older adults, and other groups should do. The guidelines also provide tips for how to fit physical activity into your daily life.

The information below is based on the HHS guidelines.

Guidelines for Children and Youth

The guidelines advise that:

  • Children and youth do 60 minutes or more of physical activity every day. Activities should vary and be a good fit for their age and physical development. Children are naturally active, especially when they're involved in unstructured play (like recess). Any type of activity counts toward the advised 60 minutes or more.
  • Most physical activity should be moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Examples include walking, running, skipping, playing on the playground, playing basketball, and biking.
  • Vigorous-intensity aerobic activity should be included at least 3 days a week. Examples include running, doing jumping jacks, and fast swimming.
  • Muscle-strengthening activities should be included at least 3 days a week. Examples include playing on playground equipment, playing tug-of-war, and doing pushups and pullups.
  • Bone-strengthening activities should be included at least 3 days a week. Examples include hopping, skipping, doing jumping jacks, playing volleyball, and working with resistance bands.

Children and youth who have disabilities should work with their doctors to find out what types and amounts of physical activity are safe for them. When possible, these children should meet the recommendations in the guidelines.

Some experts also advise that children and youth reduce screen time because it limits time for physical activity. They recommend that children aged 2 and older should spend no more than 2 hours a day watching television or using a computer (except for school work).

Guidelines for Adults

The guidelines advise that:

  • Some physical activity is better than none. Inactive adults should gradually increase their level of activity. People gain health benefits from as little as 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week.
  • For major health benefits, do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week. Another option is to do a combination of both. A general rule is that 2 minutes of moderate-intensity activity counts the same as 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity.
  • For even more health benefits, do 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of vigorous-intensity activity each week (or a combination of both). The more active you are, the more you will benefit.
  • When doing aerobic activity, do it for at least 10 minutes at a time. Spread the activity throughout the week. Muscle-strengthening activities that are moderate or vigorous intensity should be included 2 or more days a week. These activities should work all of the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms). Examples include lifting weights, working with resistance bands, and doing situps and pushups, yoga, and heavy gardening.

Guidelines for Adults Aged 65 or Older

The guidelines advise that:

  • Older adults should be physically active. Older adults who do any amount of physical activity gain some health benefits. If inactive, older adults should gradually increase their activity levels and avoid vigorous activity at first.
  • Older adults should follow the guidelines for adults, if possible. Do a variety of activities, including walking. Walking has been shown to provide health benefits and a low risk of injury.
  • If you can't do 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of activity each week, be as physically active as your abilities and condition allow.
  • You should do balance exercises if you're at risk for falls. Examples include walking backward or sideways, standing on one leg, and standing from a sitting position several times in a row.
  • If you have a chronic (ongoing) condition—such as heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes—ask your doctor what types and amounts of activity are safe for you.

Guidelines for Women During Pregnancy and Soon After Delivery

The guidelines advise that:

  • You should ask your doctor what physical activities are safe to do during pregnancy and after delivery.
  • If you're healthy but not already active, do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. If possible, spread this activity across the week.
  • If you're already active, you can continue being active as long as you stay healthy and talk with your doctor about your activity level throughout your pregnancy.
  • After the first 3 months of pregnancy, you shouldn't do exercises that involve lying on your back.
  • You shouldn't do activities in which you might fall or hurt yourself, such as horseback riding, downhill skiing, soccer, and basketball.

Guidelines for Other Groups

The HHS guidelines also have recommendations for other groups, including people who have disabilities and people who have chronic conditions, such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, and cancer.

For more information, go to the HHS "2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans."

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Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Physical Activity and Your Heart, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.


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September 26, 2011 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.