Regular physical activity helps improve your overall health and fitness, and reduces your risk for many chronic diseases. Fitting regular exercise into your daily schedule may seem difficult at first, but the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) makes exercising a fun and flexible task. These exercise guidelines are tailored to meet the needs of different age groups, and are based on the first thorough review of scientific research about physical activity and health in more than a decade.
For children and adolescents, the HHS recommends 1 hour or more of aerobic physical activity a day, with an emphasis on muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities. This can include either moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking and skateboarding, or vigorous-intensity activity, such as running.
For adults, the guidelines recommend 2.5 hours each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, or a combination of the two. It is best to spread your activity out during the week, but you can break it up into smaller chunks of time during the day as long as it’s at least 10 minutes at a time. However, to achieve greater health benefits, the HHS recommends that adults increase their activity to 5 hours of moderate-intensity or 2.5 hours a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Keep in mind that a moderate-intensity workout, such as walking fast, means you’re working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. One way to tell is that you will be able to talk, but not sing the words to your favorite song. A vigorous-intensity workout, on the other hand, means you’re breathing hard and fast, and your heart rate has gone up quite a bit. Here, you won’t be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath. Examples of a vigorous workout are riding a bike fast or on a hill and playing singles tennis.
Older adults should follow the guidelines for other adults when it is within their physical capacity. Studies show that runners or those who are involved in regular aerobic exercise had better cardiovascular fitness, increased bone density, fewer disabilities, improved thinking, learning and memory.
Finally, if you’re a healthy pregnant or postpartum woman, exercise is good for your overall health. A moderate-intensity workout, such as brisk walking, will keep your heart and lungs healthy during pregnancy. Physical activity will also help improve your mood throughout the postpartum period.