5 Takeaways on Exercise Guidelines by Age

Mother and daughter having fun in natural environment. (Getty Images)
Mother and daughter having fun in natural environment. (Getty Images)

Several years ago, the University of Connecticut’s Linda Pescatello, and 16 other top researchers throughout the nation, agreed to review and expand existing physical activity guidelines for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The resulting second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans updates the 2008 edition.

The guidelines provide evidence-based recommendations for adults and youth ages 3 through 17 to safely get the physical activity they need to stay healthy. Scientific evidence shows that physical activity has many health benefits, independent of other healthy behaviors, such as good nutrition.

New evidence shows that physical activity has immediate health benefits. For example, physical activity can reduce anxiety and blood pressure and improve quality of sleep and insulin sensitivity.

Although the first guidelines stated that only 10-minute bouts of physical activity counted toward meeting the guidelines, the new edition removes this requirement to encourage Americans to move more frequently throughout the day.

1. Preschool-aged children. New advice for children ages 3 through 5 notes that children should be active throughout the day to enhance growth and development. Adults caring for children this age should encourage active play (light, moderate, or vigorous intensity) and aim for at least three hours per day.

2. Youth ages 6 through 17. Each day, youths need at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity to attain the most health benefits from physical activity. Most activity can be aerobic, like walking, running, or anything that makes their hearts beat faster. They also need activities that make their muscles and bones strong, like climbing on playground equipment, playing basketball, and jumping rope.

For youth, physical activity can help improve cognition, bone health, fitness, and heart health. It can also reduce the risk of depression.

3. Adults. To attain the most health benefits from physical activity, adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking or fast dancing, each week. Adults also need muscle-strengthening activity, like lifting weights or doing push-ups, at least two days each week.

For adults, new evidence shows a strong relationship between increased sedentary behavior and increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and all-cause mortality. All physical activity, especially moderate-to-vigorous activity, can help offset these risks.

Physical activity helps prevent eight types of cancer (bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, stomach, and lung); reduces the risk of dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), all-cause mortality, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and depression; and improves bone health, physical function, and quality of life.

4.  For pregnant women, physical activity reduces the risk of postpartum depression.

5. For older adults, physical activity also lowers the risk of falls and injuries from falls.

For those with existing health conditions, evidence shows that physical activity can help manage more health conditions that Americans already have. For example, physical activity can decrease pain for those with osteoarthritis, reduce disease progression for hypertension and type 2 diabetes, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improve cognition for those with dementia, multiple sclerosis, ADHD, and Parkinson’s disease.