Questions and Answers
What is the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans?
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans serves as the primary, authoritative voice of the federal government for evidence-based guidance on physical activity, fitness, and health. It provides evidence-based recommendations for adults and youth ages 3 through 17 to safely get the physical activity they need to stay healthy. It also includes information on how physical activity can help promote health and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
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Why does HHS produce federal physical activity guidance?
HHS produces the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans to provide evidence-based guidance that policy makers and health professionals can use to implement programs, policies, and practices for increasing levels of physical activity and improving health.
The United States currently has low levels of adherence to the Guidelines — only 20% of adults and adolescents meet the recommendations. This has health and economic consequences for the Nation. Nearly $117 billion dollars in annual health care costs and 10% of all premature mortality are attributable to failure to meet the levels of aerobic physical activity recommended in the Guidelines.
When we move more, we have better cardiovascular health, we are stronger and less susceptible to disease, and we feel better. That’s why the updated Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans encourages leaders across the Nation to take action to help Americans fit more physical activity into their daily lives.
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How is the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans developed?
The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, a group of external experts in physical activity and health, was appointed by the HHS Secretary to review and evaluate current scientific evidence related to physical activity and health. The committee submitted its findings to the HHS Secretary in the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. The report, agency comments, and public comments were used to develop the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH) at HHS led the development and release of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. ODPHP collaborated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition (PCSFN) to develop the second edition of the Guidelines.
The policy writing committee was comprised of physical activity science and policy experts within HHS. The Guidelines undergoes peer review and clearance across the federal government prior to being approved and released by the HHS Secretary.
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How is the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans used?
The primary audiences for the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans are policy makers and health professionals at the national, state, and local level. Policy makers use the Guidelines to inform policy to increase physical activity, and health professionals use it to inform health care and public health practices.
At the federal level, the recommendations from the Guidelines inform:
- Healthy People objectives and the Presidential Youth Fitness Program
- Research questions and grant programs developed by NIH
- Surveillance questions that CDC uses to assess physical activity levels of various populations
The Guidelines is written for a professional audience, though it may also be useful to interested members of the public. A separate communication campaign (Move Your Way) has been developed to prioritize and communicate messages in the Guidelines to the general public.
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What’s new in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition?
The second edition reflects new knowledge about more health benefits from physical activity — and how Americans can more easily achieve these benefits. Many of these health benefits are independent of other healthy behaviors, like good nutrition.
We now know that any amount of physical activity can have health benefits. New evidence supports that physical activity:
- Can have immediate benefits: A single episode of physical activity can reduce anxiety and blood pressure and improve quality of sleep and insulin sensitivity.
- Helps manage even more health conditions: Physical activity can decrease pain for those with osteoarthritis, reduce disease progression for hypertension and type 2 diabetes, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improve cognition for those with dementia, multiple sclerosis, ADHD, and Parkinson’s disease.
- Helps prevent even more chronic conditions: Physical activity has long-term benefits such as improved brain health, reduced risk of 8 types of cancer, reduced risk for fall-related injuries in older adults, and reduced risk of excessive weight gain. These benefits are in addition to the other long-term benefits — like preventing conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colon cancer — that have been well known since the first edition was published.
The Guidelines has always advised Americans to avoid inactivity, but we have new knowledge about the risks of sedentary behavior. Based on this, we’ve removed the requirement that bouts of physical activity be at least 10 minutes long. This is designed to encourage Americans to move more and sit less throughout the day.
The second edition of the Guidelines includes guidance for specific groups of people:
- New recommendations for preschool children ages 3 through 5 — this age group was not included in the 2008 edition
- Updated recommendations for youth ages 6 through 17, adults, older adults, women during pregnancy and the postpartum period, adults with chronic health conditions, and adults with disabilities
The second edition of the Guidelines includes evidence-based strategies to increase physical activity levels for individuals, their families, and their communities. For example:
- At the individual level: Peer- or professional-led groups, support from others, and using technology to track physical activity can improve physical activity levels.
- At the community level: Schools and workplaces can implement policies that encourage activity, and community leaders can work to ensure access to safe places indoors or outdoors to be physically active.
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What hasn’t changed in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition?
New evidence has reinforced the first edition’s recommended amounts of physical activity for adults and youth ages 6 through 17. These recommended amounts remain unchanged in the second edition:
- Adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week plus muscle strengthening activities on 2 days each week to attain the most health benefits from physical activity.
- Youth ages 6 through 17 need at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity every day to attain the most health benefits from physical activity.
The first edition of the Guidelines focused on the role of physical activity in preventing disease, including lowering risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and colon and breast cancer. The evidence supporting these long-term health benefits has strengthened in the decade since the first edition was published.
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How often is the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans updated?
HHS has released the following guidance documents for physical activity:
Unlike the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, there isn’t a congressional mandate to update the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans on a regular basis. The timing for developing the second edition of the Guidelines was based on:
- The need to incorporate substantial new evidence into federal physical activity guidance
- Continued low levels of adherence to the Guidelines — only 20% of adults and adolescents meet the recommendations
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What are the new recommendations for preschool children?
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans includes the following new key guidelines:
- Preschool-aged children ages 3 through 5 should be active throughout the day to enhance growth and development.
- Adults caring for children this age should encourage active play (light, moderate, or vigorous intensity).
The second edition also includes a target for this age group of at least 3 hours of activity per day, although this isn’t a key guideline. This target is based on the average amount of activity observed among children of this age and is consistent with guidelines from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Commonwealth of Australia.
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What does the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans say about sedentary behavior?
The first key guideline for adults is to move more and sit less. This recommendation is supported by new evidence that shows a strong relationship between increased sedentary behavior and increased risk of all-cause mortality, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
While the evidence didn’t support a specific recommended limit on daily sedentary behavior — or recommendations on how to break up sedentary behavior throughout the day — all physical activity, especially moderate-to-vigorous activity, can help offset these risks.
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What is the difference between moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity?
As a rule of thumb, a person doing moderate-intensity aerobic activity can talk, but not sing, during the activity. A person doing vigorous-intensity activity can’t say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.
The intensity of a specific activity can vary based on a person’s fitness level. Some activities may be moderate intensity for an average person and vigorous intensity for others who are less fit. For a person with an average fitness level:
- Moderate-intensity activities include brisk walking, dancing, and household chores
- Vigorous-intensity activities include running, swimming laps, and hiking
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What is the Move Your Way campaign?
Move Your Way is a campaign for consumers that’s based on the recommendations from the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) developed the campaign to help health professionals, national organizations, communities, and other physical activity stakeholders clearly communicate the amount and types of physical activity that Americans need to stay healthy.
Rather than relying on a one-size-fits-all approach, the Move Your Way campaign emphasizes personalized, practical strategies that people can use to fit more activity into their busy lives. The campaign is informed by audience research and user testing with consumers who aren’t currently meeting the recommendations in the Guidelines.
To see Move Your Way resources — including videos, interactive tools, content syndication tools, social media messages, and fact sheets and posters in English and Spanish — visit the Move Your Way Campaign Materials page and check out the Partner Promotion Toolkit.
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