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Not only do we have to exercise, we have to enjoy it too

October 8, 2008 |  9:50 am

Confused about how much exercise you’re supposed to do? Thirty minutes a day? An hour? How much cardio and how much strength training?

GymWorry no more. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued new guidelines that explain things pretty well, offer more flexibility than the old guidelines, and offer advice for special populations.

Here’s the rundown: For adults, HHS recommends 2 1/2 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity a week -- that’s walking briskly, water aerobics, ballroom dancing or gardening. People can also opt for an hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity such as running, swimming laps, or hiking uphill with a heavy back pack. Adults should also do muscle-strengthening exercises such as weight training, push-ups and sit-ups at least two days a week.

Children and adolescents should do an hour or more of moderate or vigorous aerobic physical activity a day, including vigorous activity at least three days a week. They should also incorporate muscle-strengthening exercises such as rope climbing, sit-ups, and tug-of-war three days a week, in addition to three days a week of bone-strengthening activities such as jumping rope, running and skipping.

Special populations are also included in the guidelines. Older adults are advised to follow the adult guidelines if they can, but if a chronic condition doesn’t allow them to, they should be as active as their conditions allow. Those at risk of falling should do exercises to maintain or improve their balance.

Healthy pregnant women should strive for at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise spread throughout the week during pregnancy and after delivering their baby. Those who start their pregnancy already highly active can keep that up during pregnancy and after, as long as they stay healthy and check in with their health care provider to see if their routine should be adjusted over time.

Adults with disabilities should follow the regular adult guidelines if they can. If not, they should do some physical activity suited to their abilities and avoid inactivity.

And those with chronic medical conditions should follow the exercise guidance of a healthcare provider, since there are hefty health benefits from regular physical activity.

"We’re really looking at the total amount of time of physical activity for a week," says Melissa Johnson, executive director of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, which was an outreach arm for the guidelines. She says the 13-member federal advisory committee that came up with the revised information studied research from the past decade to determine the best route to take. "Most health benefits occur at 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity. It could still be 30 minutes a day, but we’re recommending the activity be spread out over the week, so we’re not encouraging people to be weekend warriors. And it could be a combination of moderate and vigorous exercise."

Those more on the sedentary side should build up to that 150 minutes, she says, exercising in 10-minute increments.

The new guidelines offer more flexibility, Johnson says. Instead of the 30-minutes a day rule, "You can be active your way. You can build activity in your lifestyle according to your interests."

And to set the record straight, that 150 minutes is really the low end, not the maximum amount of exercise. "More is better, and that’s a very good message," Johnson says. "More extensive benefits occur with more physical activity."

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Alexander F. Yuan / Associated Press

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