In October, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the federal government's first-ever comprehensive guidelines on physical activity. The chair of the writing group that drafted the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is David Buchner, a Shahid and Ann Carlson Khan Professor in Applied Health Sciences at the University of Illinois. Buchner is the former chief of the physical activity and health branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity. He recently joined the College of Applied Health Sciences to direct a master of public health program that will be offered starting next fall. He was interviewed by News Bureau writer Melissa Mitchell.
What are some of the key recommendations included in the guidelines?
No. 1, Children and adolescents aged 6-17 years should accumulate one hour or more of physical activity daily. The one hour of activity should be mostly aerobic. Youth should include vigorous-intensity activity in this one hour on at least three days a week. They should also do muscle-strengthening activities at least three days a week and bone-strengthening activities at least three days a week.
No. 2, adults should do aerobic activity and muscle strengthening activity each week. They can do a minimum of two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, ballroom dancing, or general gardening. Or, they can do at least one hour and 15 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity like jogging and aerobic dancing. Or adults can choose combinations of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. Aerobic activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes, and preferably spread throughout the week. Muscle-strengthening activities have unique health benefits and should be done on two or more days each week.
No. 3, for both children and adults, greater amounts of physical activity have greater health benefits. For additional and more extensive health benefits, adults should increase their aerobic physical activity to the equivalent of five hours a week of moderate-intensity activity. Even more benefits accrue from amounts above 300 minutes.
No. 4, when people cannot do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week because of chronic conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow, and avoid an inactive lifestyle.
Considering that various organizations have issued their own guidelines in the past, some of these recommendations sound familiar.
What was the impetus behind the issuance of government-sanctioned guidelines?
The guidelines represent the first major review of the science on benefits of physical activity in more than a decade.
The government decided to issue the guidelines because of conclusive evidence of the importance of physical activity to the health of Americans. Unlike many previous guidelines, the new guidelines are comprehensive in scope, addressing physical activity in children, youth, adults, older adults, people with chronic conditions, people with disabilities and pregnant women.
Do these guidelines depart in any way from those issued previously?
The new guidelines allow greater flexibility. One can do vigorous activity instead of moderate intensity, or a combination of both. A person has the choice of doing all the activity on a few days each week (preferably three or more). The guidelines about weight control also allow more flexibility, and there is more information about injury prevention.
What are some specific health benefits that result from maintaining activity levels recommended in the guidelines?
The health benefits of regular physical activity are remarkable. People who engage in regular physical activity have lower risk of early death, coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, adverse blood lipid profile, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer, obesity and depression. Regularly active older adults have lower risk of dementia and fall injuries. Only a few lifestyle choices have as large an effect on health as physical activity. It's remarkable that people who are physically active for approximately seven hours a week have a 40 percent lower risk of dying early than those who are active for less than a half hour a week.
As Americans begin to hear more about the guidelines, will the Department of Health and Human Services offer follow-up measures to increase awareness or help people adopt a more active lifestyle?
HHS realized that guidelines are necessary, but not sufficient, for helping people adopt a more active lifestyle. Therefore, HHS has developed a strategy for increasing awareness of the new guidelines that relies a great deal on partnerships. You can visit the Health and Human Services Web site to find more resources.
Many people seem to understand that being physically active is critical to health, but have difficulty making changes that stick. What are some strategies to overcome that?
Fundamental to success is choosing to do activities you enjoy. To be successful in doing these activities regularly, people must figure out strategies. Here are a few that have helped me:
- Build social support for physical activity by doing it with friends - for example, making appointments with friends to go for a walk or run together.
- Live in a community where it is easy to be physically active - where one can safely walk and bike on streets, and with good access to physical-activity friendly parks.
- Keep a log book or diary of your physical activity.
- Sign up for a community event such as a foot race or a charity walk.