For the first time, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is recommending that children as young as age 3 be physically active every day. The second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans emphasizes the health benefits of physical activity for Americans of all ages. Also new in the second edition: any amount of activity for adults, even if it’s less than 10 minutes, counts toward the weekly goal of 150 to 300 minutes. The guidelines were published November 12, 2018 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Getting physical activity is one of the most effective things people can do to improve their health and reduce risk for many chronic diseases and conditions, including cancer. However, 80% of adults and adolescents in the US aren’t active enough, which can have negative effects on health. For the overall US population, an estimated $117 billion in annual health care costs and about 10% of premature deaths are associated with inadequate physical activity.
The HHS Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee reviewed the current science on physical activity and health. Evidence shows physical activity fosters normal growth and development including bone health, weight control, and heart, respiratory, and muscle fitness. Regular physical activity helps people sleep and think better. It also reduces the risk of anxiety and depression, high blood pressure, dementia, and several types of cancer.
Previously, HHS guidelines only counted periods of activity lasting 10 minutes or more as enough to meet daily or weekly goals. Based on current evidence, the new guidelines say that moderate-to-vigorous activity of any amount, even less than 10 minutes, is related to health benefits. (Moderate activity is equivalent in effort to brisk walking and vigorous activity is equivalent in effort to running or jogging.) This finding is consistent with tips for more routine daily physical activity, such as parking farther away from a destination and walking or taking the stairs rather than the elevator.
The guidelines emphasize that moving more and sitting less will benefit nearly everyone. Some physical activity is better than none, and even small increases lead to additional health benefits. The HHS says doctors should help their patients develop a physical activity plan that works best. For optimal health benefits, the guidelines recommend:
For the first time, HHS guidelines address the physical activity needs of children younger than age 6. At ages 3 to 5, children are undergoing periods of rapid growth and need physical activity throughout the day to develop properly and learn important movement skills. Adult caregivers of preschool-aged children should encourage active play that includes a variety of activity types.
The guidelines do not specify how much physical activity is required for this age group, but the authors write that a reasonable target may be 3 hours per day of activity of all intensities: light, moderate, or vigorous. This is the average amount of activity observed among children of this age.
The authors conclude that an increase in physical activity among Americans will benefit the entire US population and will require the cooperation of many sectors of society including health care professionals, health care organizations, and the government.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Published November 12, 2018 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. First author Katrina L. Piercy, PhD, RD, US Department of Health and Human Services, Rockville, Md.
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