How much activity should I be doing to stay healthy?
As Physical Therapists, we often focus our treatment sessions and education on how to address or manage pain, how to prevent or mitigate injury, and how to rehab after an injury or surgery. However, part of our role is also to educate the public on how movement and exercise can affect their health long term not only when it comes to preventing pain and injury to the musculoskeletal system, but keeping all systems healthy and preventing disease.
I recently read an article on the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, and thought it was important to share these recommendations. The recommendations are broken down in 4 different groups.
1) Adults Ages 18-64 years old - It is recommended that able-bodied adults move more and sit less in daily life. For substantial health benefits, they should engage in 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical exercise, and 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity. These activities should be spread out throughout the week, and there may be some extra health benefits to going beyond the recommended amounts. Additionally, all adults should engage in strength training of all major muscle groups at least 2 times per week (no specific duration recommended).
2) Adults Ages 65 years and older - These recommendations are the same as the recommendations for 18-64 year olds, but they should also engage in multicomponent activities that include balance training for fall prevention. This means they should also be doing both aerobic and strengthening exercises as well (the activity should be relative to their current health and physical status).
3) Pregnancy and after giving birth - Women who are pregnant or postpartum (once released by a physician) should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Women who regularly participate in vigorous activities prior to pregnancy can maintain these activities during and after their pregnancy. (I would also like to add that it is important to work with fitness professionals who understand the demands of pregnancy, and also proper modifications to make as pregnancy progresses. Additionally, I highly recommend seeing a Women's Health Physical Therapist postpartum, regardless of if you have a vaginal birth or cesarean).
4) Adults with chronic conditions or disabilities - adults with chronic conditions should consult a health care practitioner to ascertain their ability to do regular physical activity. If they are able, they should aim to meet the physical activity guidelines listed above (150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical exercise, and 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise). If they cannot meet these guidelines, they should aim to be as physically active as possible.
There are many preventable diseases that Americans suffer from that can be managed or reversed with proper physical activity. Exercise should also never be viewed as an "all-or-nothing" thing - if you can't hit these guidelines, do what you can. Start with what you have the time and physical capacity for, and increase as you are able. Also consider lifestyle changes that are simple to make - sit less at work, go for a short walk at lunch, take the stairs, or park your car further away from the restaurant or store. All of these small changes add up and result in better physical health.
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