80% of Americans Don’t Get Enough Exercise — and Here’s How Much You Actually Need

New guidelines spell out how much physical activity to aim for

About 80 percent of U.S. adults and children aren’t getting enough exercise for optimal health. But just how much exercise do we really need?

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For the first time in 10 years, a new set of guidelines from the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee outlines just how much exercise we should all be aiming for.

“Researchers looked at various age groups — they looked at children, young children, school-aged children, adolescents, adults, older adults — and what they saw was that in all age groups, exercise was beneficial for everyone,” says preventive cardiologist Haitham Ahmed, MD, MPH, who did not take part in the research. 

How much exercise you (and your family) need

The new guidelines recommend:

Preschool children (ages 3-5). Be active throughout the day.

Children and adolescents (ages 6-17). Do at least 60 minutes of moderate to intense exercise each day.

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Adults. Aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise each week.

The guidelines recommend adults supplement their weekly activity with two sessions of resistance muscle-building exercises. Older adults should also incorporate balance enhancing exercises into their fitness regimen.

Why exercise is so important to your health

The health benefits of physical activity include a reduced risk of death from heart disease, heart-related events, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and various cancers, Dr. Ahmed says.

And the positive effects of exercise extend beyond the traditional heart-healthy benefits. The research also shows that increased physical activity can improve cognition, sleep and reduce anxiety, as well as the risk of depression and dementia.

Plus, remember: It’s not all or nothing

While the recommendations may seem overwhelming to someone who isn’t physically active, Dr. Ahmed points out that even a little bit of exercise has some benefit. 

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“Even just minimal amounts of exercise is better than nothing,” he says. “If you just go up an extra three flight of stairs per day — during the morning, at your lunch break, in the evening — over a long period of time that really adds up.” 

Dr. Ahmed adds that even those who have a family history of heart disease can still alter their risk significantly through good health habits such as eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise.

“A lot of research shows that even if you have a family history — you have some things that are going against you — you can still reduce your risk by up to 80 percent,” he explains. “While you can never completely get your risk down to 0 percent, there are things that are within your control, such as exercise, and you can really alter the chances of having a negative outcome in the future.”

Complete results of the research and guidelines can be found in JAMA.

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