Physical activity can dramatically improve an individual’s health by preventing disease or reducing the impact of chronic health conditions. However, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), just 26 percent of men, 19 percent of women and 20 percent of adolescents meet physical activity recommendations.

This week, HHS issued an update to its Physical Activity Guidelines based on new data about the immediate and long-term health benefits from physical activity, as well as new evidence that physical activity can help manage chronic conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension.

Notable updates:

  • Any amount of physical activity counts.
  • A single period of sustained activity has immediate health benefits, including reduced anxiety and blood pressure, improved quality of sleep and improved insulin sensitivity.
  • Long term benefits include: improved brain health, reduced risk of eight types of cancer (previously two), reduced risk for fall-related injuries in older adults and reduced risk of excessive weight gain.
  • Physical activity helps manage more chronic health conditions, including a decrease in pain from osteoarthritis, slower disease progression for hypertension and type 2 diabetes, lessened symptoms of anxiety and depression and improved cognitive function for persons with dementia, multiple sclerosis, ADHD and Parkinson’s disease.
  • The new guidelines prescribe activity throughout the day for preschool children to enhance growth and development.

“Physical inactivity contributes to control of non-communicable conditions, such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease that can be prevented by simply moving more,” said James Sallis, PhD, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “We now know that you don’t have to run for 30 minutes to see a health benefit. Use the stairs, park your car farther away or simply walk around your block one time. All of these minutes of activity count toward the 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity recommended for adults each week and the 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity recommended for youths each day. These recommendations provide yet more reasons to place a higher priority on physical activity by individuals, health professionals and government.”

Sallis is an active living researcher who is available to discuss the newly updated physical activity guidelines.