THURSDAY, Oct. 9, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- In an effort to help harried Americans fit exercise into their hectic lives, new government guidelines released this week recommend slightly more than two hours of physical activity a week to stay fit.
The recommendation tweaks existing guidelines that suggested a daily workout was best.
"Being physically active is one of the most important things Americans of all ages can do to protect and improve their health," said Rear Adm. Penelope Slade Royall, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For most people, all it takes is 2 1/2 hours a week to stay healthy, she noted.
"The previous recommendation for moderate-intensity physical activity was 30 minutes a day five days a week. This is now just one way to meet the minimum guideline," Royall said. "The same health benefits accrue to people who exercise vigorously for half the time."
Being physically active helps reduce the risk of dying early from heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, colon and breast cancer, and depression -- and it also helps you think better, according to the guidelines.
"We are trying to reach out to our sedentary nation and encourage people and help people find ways to become physically active," Royall said. "We were meant and made to move. In the past, human beings spent their days running around looking for something to eat or running as fast as they could away from something that wanted to eat them."
Now people have to find ways to integrate exercise into their lives, she added, because, over time, the amount of physical activity people get has been "engineered out" of society.
The new Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans are based on the latest scientific evidence about the health benefits of physical activity. It's the first such review in a decade, Royall noted.
The guidelines recommend a minimum amount of physical activity to promote health, but the more exercise you get the greater the health benefit, Royall said.
Aerobic exercise should be done for at least 10 minutes. To get even more health benefits, adults should get at least five hours a week of moderate exercise or 2 1/2 hours a week of intensive exercise, the guidelines recommend.
Pregnant women can also benefit from 2 1/2 hours a week of moderately intensive aerobic exercise. This activity should be spread throughout the week, the guidelines recommend. Pregnant women who previously engaged in vigorous exercise should check with their doctor about how their routine should be modified.
Children and adolescents need even more exercise then adults. They should try to get at least one hour of moderate or vigorous exercise a day, and at engage in intense exercise at least three days a week. For children and adolescents, exercise improves hearts, lungs, muscles and bones, and improves body image.
For adults with disabilities, the guidelines recommend at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate aerobic activity a week, or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week. If they can't do that much exercise, they should do what they can to remain physically active.
People with chronic medical conditions should also be physically active, but they should do so with the advice of their doctor, the guidelines say.
Many professional groups such as the American Society for Nutrition and the American Heart Association support the new guidelines.
"The development of U.S. physical activity guidelines is a positive step forward for the country," James O. Hill, president of the American Society for Nutrition, said in a statement. "We hope this effort can be integrated with the development of new dietary guidelines to help Americans achieve healthier lifestyles," he added.
But one expert warns that guidelines, while welcome, aren't enough.
"Guidelines are no panacea," said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine. "Despite clear guidance on tobacco, many people still smoke. We've had detailed dietary guidelines for years, and the typical American diet still fails to resemble them. Physical activity guidelines are the starting line, not the finish line."
"We now need policies and programs that provide various ways for most of us to meet these guidelines during a standard day or week. And we need the will to make meeting these guidelines a priority for ourselves, and our families," Katz added.
To see the guidelines, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services .
What Works Best for You?
Here are some examples of what types of exercise work for different people, according to the new government guidelines.