Updating the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans

Physical activity is one of the best ways to improve health, no matter your age; however, evidence shows that Americans aren’t getting enough of it. According to federal monitoring data, only 26% of men, 19% of women, and 20% of adolescents meet the guidelines for physical activity.

In November 2018, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (PDF), which provides science-based guidance to help people improve their health through regular physical activity. The edition reflects the extensive amount of new knowledge gained since the publication of the first Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, released in 2008.

Developing the Physical Activity Guidelines

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The HHS Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion led the management and development of the physical activity guidelines, along

with the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness, & Nutrition, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The NIH Office of Disease Prevention physical activity experts, Drs. Rachel Ballard and Stephanie George, played key roles in helping create these guidelines. They served as federal representatives on several Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee (PAGAC) working groups; coordinated the review of the scientific evidence summarized in the 2018 PAGAC Scientific Report by subject matter experts; and worked with the federal writing group to translate that evidence into a policy document, which served as the basis for the physical activity guidelines. Dr. Ballard also served as the NIH Co-Executive Secretary for this effort.

Both Drs. Ballard and George helped author an article for JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association about the physical activity guidelines. The article, which accompanied the release of the guidelines, was rated among the top 10 most discussed JAMA articles of 2018. It has been viewed more than 165,000 times.

New Areas of Physical Activity Research

The evidence is now clear that there are benefits to incorporating more physical activity into your life and maintaining that routine over time. Emerging evidence suggests that low levels of physical activity done throughout the day may be beneficial, but more research is needed to further the measurement of light intensity physical activity and the study of its health benefits. More research is also needed to determine how physical activity may influence other health outcomes beyond the ones listed below.

The 2018 PAGAC Scientific Report also suggests greater research investment is needed on the role of physical activity in areas such as brain health and health effects in young children and in people with chronic health conditions. For the first time the evidence review explored the adverse effects of sedentary behaviors and the report recommended further research to explore the impact of all levels of physical activity on the effect of sedentary behaviors. 

What’s New? Highlights from the Second Edition

  • Adults should move more and sit less. New evidence that shows a strong relationship between increased sedentary behavior and increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and all-cause mortality. All physical activity, especially moderate-to-vigorous activity, can help offset these risks.
  • Any amount of physical activity has some health benefits. The first edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans stated that only 10-minute bouts of physical activity counted toward meeting the guidelines. The second edition removes this requirement as the evidence has evolved and encouraged Americans to move more frequently throughout the day as they work toward meeting the guidelines. Most benefits are attained with at least 150-300 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.
  • New evidence shows that physical activity has immediate health benefits. For example, physical activity can reduce anxiety and blood pressure and improve the quality of sleep and insulin sensitivity.
  • Meeting the physical activity guidelines recommendations consistently over time can lead to even more long-term health benefits. (New benefits appear with an *.)
    • For adults, physical activity helps prevent 8 types of cancer (bladder*, breast, colon, endometrium*, esophagus*, kidney*, stomach*, and lung*); reduces the risk of dementia* (including Alzheimer’s disease*), all-cause mortality, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and depression; and improves bone health, physical function, and quality of life.
    • For older adults, physical activity also lowers the risk of falls and injuries from falls*.
    • For pregnant women, physical activity reduces the risk of postpartum depression*.
    • For all groups, physical activity reduces the risk of excessive weight gain* and helps people maintain a healthy weight.
  • New evidence shows that physical activity can help manage more health conditions that Americans already have. For example, 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.

For an inclusive list of all the new recommendations, see the top 10 things you should know about the second edition of the physical activity guidelines.  

Promoting the Guidelines

If you would like to help spread the word about the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans please consider sharing the Move Your Way campaign materials. They include fact sheets, posters, videos, interactive tools (including an activity planner), and web badges and widgets. There is also a new slide deck available about the development process, key guidelines, and promoting the Move Your Way campaign.