Exercise and Fitness

 

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About Physical Activity

Regular physical activity helps improve your overall health and fitness, and reduces your risk for many chronic diseases. Physical Activity is one of the best things people can do to improve their health. It is vital for healthy aging and can reduce the burden of chronic diseases and prevent early death.

Active people generally live longer and are at less risk for serious health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some cancers. For people with chronic diseases, physical activity can help manage these conditions and complications.

Why It Matters

About 1 in 2 adults live with a chronic disease.

About half of this group have two or more chronic diseases. Only half of adults get the physical activity they need to help reduce and prevent chronic diseases.

Physical Activity Saves Lives and Protects Health.

Getting enough physical activity could prevent 1 in 10 premature deaths.

It could also prevent:

  • 1 in 8 cases of breast cancer
  • 1 in 8 cases of colorectal cancer
  • 1 in 12 cases of diabetes
  • 1 in 15 cases of heart disease
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Not Getting Enough Physical Activity Costs Money

117 Billion Dollars in annual health care costs are associated with inadequate physical activity

Physical Activity Benefits Communities in the following ways:
Economic

Building active and walkable communities can help:

  • Increase levels of retail economic activity and employment
  • Increase property values
  • Support neighborhood revitalization
  • Reduce health care costs

Safety

Walkable communities can improve safety for people who walk, ride bicycles, and drive.

Workforce

Physically active people tend to take fewer sick days.

Physical Activity Builds a Healthy and Strong Country
Benefits for Children

  • Reduces risk of depression
  • Improves aerobic fitness
  • Improves muscular fitness
  • Improves bone health
  • Promotes favorable body composition
  • Improves attention and some measures of academic performance (with school physical activity programs)

Benefits for Adults

  • Lowers risk of high blood pressure
  • Lowers risk of stroke
  • Improves aerobic fitness
  • Improves mental health
  • Improves cognitive function
  • Reduces arthritis symptoms
  • Prevents weight gain

Benefits for Healthy Aging

  • Improves sleep
  • Reduces risk of falling
  • Improves balance
  • Improves joint mobility
  • Extends years of active life
  • Helps prevent weak bones and muscle loss
  • Delays onset of cognitive decline

Impact on Military Readiness

About 1 in 4 Young Adults are too heavy to serve in the U.S. military.

Long-term military readiness is at risk unless a large-scale change in physical activity and nutrition takes place in America.

How much physical activity do you need?

The evidence is clear—physical activity fosters normal growth and development, can reduce the risk of various chronic diseases, and can make people feel better, function better, and sleep better. Some health benefits start immediately after activity, and even short bouts of physical activity are beneficial.

Children and Adolescence
Childhood and adolescence are critical periods for developing movement skills, learning healthy habits, and establishing a firm foundation for lifelong health and well-being. Regular physical activity in children and adolescents promotes health and fitness. Compared to those who are inactive, physically active youth have higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness and stronger muscles. They also typically have lower body fat and stronger bones. Physical activity also has brain health benefits for school-aged children, including improved cognition and reduced symptoms of depression. Evidence indicates that both acute bouts and regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity improve the cognitive functions of memory, executive function, processing speed, attention, and academic performance for these children.

Youth who are regularly active also have a better chance of a healthy adulthood. Children and adolescents do not usually develop chronic diseases, such as heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, or osteoporosis. However, current evidence shows that obesity and other risk factors for these diseases, such as elevated insulin, blood lipids, and blood pressure, are increasingly appearing in children and adolescents. Exercise training in youth with overweight or obesity can improve body composition by reducing overall levels of body fat as well as abdominal fat. Regular physical activity also makes it less likely that these risk factors will develop and more likely that children remain healthy when they become adults.

Key Guidelines for Preschool-Aged Children

Preschool aged children (ages 3 through 5 years) should be encouraged to move and engage in active play as well as in 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. Although the specific amount of activity needed to improve bone health and avoid excess fat in young children is not well defined, a reasonable target may be 3 hours per day of activity of all intensities: light, moderate, or vigorous intensity. This is the average amount of activity observed among children of this age and is consistent with guidelines from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Commonwealth of Australia.

Preschool aged children (ages 3 through 5 years) should be physically active throughout the day to enhance growth and development.

Adult caregivers of preschool-aged children should encourage active play that includes a variety of activity types.

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Key Guidelines for Children and Adolescents

School-aged youth (ages 6 through 17 years) can achieve substantial health benefits by doing moderate and vigorous-intensity physical activity for periods of time that add up to 60 minutes or more each day. This activity should include aerobic activity as well as age-appropriate muscle- and bone-strengthening activities. It appears that, as in adults, the total amount of physical activity is more important for achieving health benefits than is any one component (frequency, intensity, or duration) or specific mix of activities (aerobic, muscle strengthening, bone strengthening). Even so, bone-strengthening activities remain especially important for children and young adolescents because the greatest gains in bone mass occur during the years just before and during puberty. In addition, the majority of peak bone mass is obtained by the end of adolescence.

Adults play an important role in providing age appropriate opportunities for physical activity. In doing so, they help lay an important foundation for lifelong, health promoting physical activity. Adults need to encourage active play in children and encourage sustained and structured activity as children grow older. As children become adolescents, they typically reduce their physical activity, making it all the more important for adults to provide age-appropriate, enjoyable opportunities for physical activity and to encourage youth to participate.

It is important to provide young people opportunities and encouragement to participate in physical activities that are appropriate for their age, that are enjoyable, and that offer variety.

Children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 years should do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily:

  • Aerobic: Most of the 60 minutes or more per day should be either moderate  or vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity and should include vigorous intensity physical activity on at least 3 days a week.
  • Muscle-strengthening: As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include muscle strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days a week.
  • Bone-strengthening: As part of their 60 minutes or more of daily physical activity, children and adolescents should include bone strengthening physical activity on at least 3 days a week.

Examples of Light, Moderate, and Vigorous Exercise

  • Light Exercises include: slow walking, casual bike rides, and mild stretching.
  • Moderate Exercises include: brisk walking, gardening, and tai chi.
  • Vigorous Exercises include: playing tennis, jumping rope, and swimming.

Examples of Aerobic, Muscle-strengthening, and Bone-strengthening Exercise

  • Aerobic Exercises include: aerobic dancing, playing tennis, and hiking uphill.
  • Muscle-strengthening Exercises include: weight lifting, climbing a tree, doing push-ups.
  • Bone-strengthening Exercises include: jumping jacks, running, brisk walking, and weight-lifting.

Active Adults

Adults who are physically active are healthier, feel better, and are less likely to develop many chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and several types of cancer than are adults who are inactive. Regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity also reduces feelings of anxiety and depression and improves sleep and quality of life. Even a single episode of physical activity provides temporary improvements in cognitive function and state anxiety. Adults who are more physically active are better able to perform everyday tasks without undue fatigue. Increased amounts of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity are associated with improved cardio-respiratory and muscular fitness, including a healthier body weight and body composition. Adults who are more physically active can more easily carry out daily tasks like climbing stairs, carrying heavy packages, and performing household chores. These benefits are true for men and women of all ages, races, and ethnic back-rounds.

Adults gain most of these health benefits when they do the equivalent of 150 to 300 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes to 5 hours) of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity each week. Adults gain additional and more extensive health benefits with even more physical activity. Muscle-strengthening activities also provide health benefits and are an important part of an adult’s overall physical activity plan. This chapter provides guidance for men and women ages 18 through 64 years.

Key Guidelines for Adults

Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits.

For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.

Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.

Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.

Active Older Adults

The benefits of regular physical activity occur throughout life and are essential for healthy aging. Adults ages 65 years and older gain substantial health benefits from regular physical activity. However, it is never too late to start being physically active. Being physically active makes it easier to perform activities of daily living, including eating, bathing, toileting, dressing, getting into or out of a bed or chair, and moving around the house or neighborhood.

Physically active older adults are less likely to experience falls, and if they do fall, they are less likely to be seriously injured. Physical activity can also preserve physical function and mobility, which may help maintain independence longer and delay the onset of major disability. Research shows that physical activity can improve physical function in adults of any age, adults with overweight or obesity, and even those who are frail. Promoting physical activity and reducing sedentary behavior for older adults is especially important because this population is the least physically active of any age group, and most older adults spend a significant proportion of their day being sedentary.

Older adults are a varied group. Most, but not all, have one or more chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, or cancer, and these
conditions vary in type and severity. Nevertheless, being physically active has significant benefits for all older adults. Physical activity is key to preventing and managing chronic disease. Other benefits include a lower risk of dementia, better perceived quality of life, and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. Additionally, doing physical activity with others can provide opportunities for social engagement and interaction. All older adults experience a loss of physical fitness and function with age, but some experience this more than others. This diversity means that some older adults can run several miles, while others struggle to walk a few blocks.

These guidelines are the same for adults and older adults:

Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits.

For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.

Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.

Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.

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Guidelines just for older adults:

As part of their weekly physical activity, older adults should do multi-component physical activity that includes balance training as well as aerobic and muscle strengthening activities.

Older adults should determine their level of effort for physical activity relative to their level of fitness.

Older adults with chronic conditions should understand whether and how their conditions affect their ability to do regular physical activity safely.

When older adults 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.

Physical Activity in Women During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period

Physical activity during pregnancy benefits a woman’s overall health. Moderate-intensity physical activity by healthy women during pregnancy increases or maintains cardio-respiratory fitness, reduces the risk of excessive weight gain and gestational diabetes, and reduces symptoms of postpartum depression. Reduced risk of excessive weight gain during pregnancy can also reduce the risk of excessive postpartum weight retention, future obesity, and an infant born with high birth weight. Strong scientific evidence shows that the risks of moderate intensity activity done by healthy women during pregnancy are very low, and do not increase risk of low birth weight, preterm delivery, or early pregnancy loss. Some evidence suggests that physical activity may reduce the risk of pregnancy complications, such as preeclampsia, reduce the length of labor and postpartum recovery, and reduce the risk of having a Cesarean section.

During a normal postpartum period, regular physical activity continues to benefit a woman’s overall health. Studies show that moderate intensity physical activity during the period following the birth of a child increases a woman’s cardio-respiratory fitness and improves her mood. Such activity does not appear to have adverse effects on breast milk volume, breast milk composition, or infant growth.

Physical activity also helps women achieve and maintain a healthy weight during the postpartum period and, when combined with caloric restriction, helps promote weight loss.

Key Guidelines for Women During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period

Women should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate intensity aerobic activity a week during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.

Women who habitually engaged in vigorous intensity aerobic activity or who were physically active before pregnancy can continue these activities during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

Women who are pregnant should be under the care of a health care provider who can monitor the progress of the pregnancy. Women who are pregnant can consult their health care provider about whether or how to adjust their physical activity during pregnancy and after the baby is born.

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