Physical Activity and Your Heart
Physical Activity and Your Heart

Physical Activity and Your Heart Recommendations

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides physical activity guidelines for all Americans ages 3 and older. The guidelines explain that regular physical activity improves health. They encourage people to be as active as possible for the health benefits. Before getting started with physical activity, read these recommendations to learn about what is best for you.

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.

Guidelines for preschool children

The guidelines advise that: (Physical Activity Guidelines, 2018, p47)

  • Preschool children, ages 3 to 5, should do physical activity throughout the day. A reasonable target may be 3 hours per day of activity of light, moderate, and vigorous intensity.
  • Adult caregivers should encourage active play that includes different types of activities. This includes unstructured play as well as structured activities, such as throwing games and bicycle or tricycle riding. To strengthen bones, young children should do activities that involve hopping, skipping, jumping, and tumbling.

Guidelines for children and youth

The guidelines advise that:

  • Children and youth ages 6 to 17 should 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 recommended 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 recommend 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 all 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 way 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.

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 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.

Additional 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, as well as aerobic and bone-strengthening activities. 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 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 if 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 Physical Activity 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 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

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