Exercise and Activity (cont.)
In this Article
What are the recommendations for increasing fitness for youth, adults, and seniors?
There is good news for all Americans. Scientific evidence shows that physical activity done at a moderate-intensity level can produce health benefits (USDHHS, 1996). If people have been sedentary, they can improve their health and well-being with regular, moderate levels of activity each day.
Those who participate in moderate- to vigorous-intensity activities regularly should be encouraged and supported in their efforts to continue. While activity at a higher intensity or performed longer offers more health benefits, this level of activity may not be a realistic goal for everyone, at least not to start with. Many Americans, for whom the term "exercise" brings up negative images and emotions, can celebrate the good news by setting a new personal goal-achieving and enjoying the benefits of a regularly active lifestyle that includes a variety of moderate- and/or vigorous-intensity activities.
Adults should strive to meet either of the following physical activity recommendations. See General Physical Activities Defined By Level of Intensity for a chart that lists the intensity levels of many types of activities.
More good news is that it's never too late to start an active lifestyle. No matter how old you are, how unfit you feel, or how long you've been inactive, research shows that starting a more active lifestyle now through regular, moderate-intensity activity can make you healthier and improve your quality of life.
This next section provides guidelines for how active you need to be to gain some benefit and general information on activity levels of Americans.
How active do adults need to be to gain some benefit?
Physical activity does not need to be hard to provide some benefit. Participating in moderate-intensity physical activity is a vital component of a healthy lifestyle for people of all ages and abilities. There is no demographic or social group in America that could not benefit from becoming more active.
The table* below provides recommendations on how to increase your physical activity based on your current activity level. Check it out to see where you are and how you can challenge yourself.
*Scientific evidence to date supports the statements above.
What is "moderate-intensity physical activity?"
Moderate-intensity physical activity refers to any activity that burns 3.5 to 7 Calories per minute (kcal/min) (Ainsworth et al., 2000). These levels are equal to the effort a healthy individual might burn while walking briskly, mowing the lawn, dancing, swimming for recreation, or bicycling.
What is "vigorous-intensity physical activity?"
Vigorous-intensity physical activity refers to any activity that burns more than 7 Calories per minute (kcal/min) (Ainsworth et al., 2000). These levels are equal to the effort a healthy individual might burn while jogging, engaging in heavy yard work, participating in high-impact aerobic dancing, swimming continuous laps, or bicycling uphill.
Number of Minutes of Activity Required to Burn 150 kcalories
Are there special recommendations for young people?
It is recommended that children and adolescents participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity most days of the week, preferably daily.1
Children and adolescents can choose any type of moderate or higher intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, playing tag, jumping rope, or swimming, as long as it is adds up to at least one hour a day.
For children and adolescents, regular physical activity has beneficial effects on the following aspects of health:
Children and adolescents who are just beginning to be physically active should start out slowly and gradually build to higher levels in order to prevent the risk of injury or feel defeated from unrealistic goals. It is important that children and adolescents are encouraged to be physically active by doing things that interest them. This will help them establish an active lifestyle early on.
1This physical activity recommendation is from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005.
Tips for Parents
As a parent, you have an important role in shaping your children's physical activity attitudes and behaviors. Here are some tips to encourage your children to be more physically active.
Are there special recommendations for seniors?
Being physically active can prevent and help treat many of the most common chronic medical conditions associated with old age. Physical activity is one of the most important steps older adults can take to maintain physical and mental health and quality of life. Scientists have proven that being active can help reduce the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, stroke, depression, colon cancer, and premature death. Yet today, more than 60% of older adults are inactive. Older adults face the same obstacles to being more physically active as younger adults but also have special concerns.
The Challenge to Get Moving
Getting older adults to be active is a challenge. The average American lives a long time, but many are sedentary, physically unfit, and experience disability from chronic medical conditions as they age. Physicians and exercise experts hear many reasons from older adults as to why they are not active: It doesn't feel good. It makes my arthritic joints hurt. It takes too much time. It's boring. However, older adults need physical activity like everyone else, at least as much as younger adults. In fact, the loss of strength and stamina often attributed to aging is in part caused by reduced physical activity.
Walking groups and physical activity programs especially designed for older adults can help seniors become-and remain active. For example, senior swim clubs and water aerobic classes are excellent activities for people with arthritis.
The Need for Strength
Strength training is recommended for all adults, but it is a vital link to health for older adults. The reason is that strength training prevents sarcopenia, the muscle deterioration that comes with aging, and also helps maintain bone mass. "Stronger people have better health outcomes," noted Dr. David Buchner, Chief of CDC's Physical Activity and Health Branch and renowned Gerontologist. However, some elderly people avoid physical activity and become sedentary out of fear of falling and fracturing a bone. Dr. Buchner added that emerging data indicate that physical activity can prevent falls by improving strength, balance, and endurance.
Keeping Young at Heart Aerobic activity (also known as cardiorespiratory or cardiovascular endurance activity) is also important. It keeps the heart strong, lowers blood pressure, and relieves anxiety and depression. Older adults can obtain significant health benefits with moderate physical activity, such as walking or gardening.
"We need to make physical activity part of the daily routine for older adults," said Dr. Buchner. Health clubs also provide older adults with a variety of opportunities to improve their aerobic fitness, muscular strength, and flexibility. Dr. Buchner adds, "Traditionally health and fitness facilities have marketed mainly to body-conscious younger adults, who focus on the cosmetic effects. It's great to see that health clubs have developed more programs for older adults, and we hope this trend continues."
*The above information was adapted from: CDC, NCCDPHP. Special focus: healthy aging. Chronic Disease Notes and Reports 1999;12(3):10-11.
The CDC/ACSM recommends that all adults should accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on five or more days of the week. Cardiorespiratory (aerobic) endurance, strength, balance, and flexibility exercises should all be part of a physical activity program for older adults. No one type of activity will bring about all the benefits of physical activity. It is important to include all of them. Older adults can meet the physical activity recommendation with a combination of these activities using the following sample schedule:
*Flexibility refers to how fully one's joints or limbs are able to move. Being flexible allows for easier movements and reduced pain in joints so that it is also easier to perform daily activities of independent living. By adding stretching to your daily physical activity plan, you can help keep your joints flexible which will help you move with more freedom and comfort.
Participating in these types of activities can help you more easily perform many of your day-to-day tasks. For example, being more flexible will help you more easily do things like reaching in your cupboard and tying your shoes. Being stronger and having more balance will help you lift and carry items like sacks of groceries and will make it easier to get in and out of chairs and the bathtub. Improving your cardiorespiratory endurance will allow you to do things like climbing stairs, dancing, or playing with grandchildren without getting out of breath.
The chart below provides ideas of activities in the areas of cardiorespiratory endurance, strength, and flexibility. Many of these activities will also help improve your balance. Most importantly, choose activities that you enjoy. This will make it more likely that you'll keep doing them!
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