New federal fitness guidelines say any exercise is good

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Compared with 1960, workers in the U.S.

There are more long-term benefits from physical activity, including 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.

If new fitness guidelines from the federal government are any indication, the vast majority of Americans aren't getting almost enough exercise. In a new report released by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), the sedentary lifestyles of many Americans is under attack, and for good reason.

With a few exceptions, the advice in the new guidelines is not so different from what we were told in the 2008 guidelines.

The guidelines and related reports, published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, say the failure to meet the recommended levels of aerobic physical activity leads to almost $117 billion in annual health care costs and 10% of all premature death.

Guidelines used to begin at age 6, but the new ones say preschoolers ages 3 through 5 should be encouraged to take part in active play throughout the day.

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Physical activity helps manage more chronic health conditions.

At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, remains the recommendation for "substantial health benefits". Now even short times are known to help. Women are advised to do 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week during and after pregnancy.

"The guidelines are right on, but the key is implementation", commented Carl "Chip" J Lavie, MD, medical director of cardiac rehabilitation and preventive cardiology at the Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans.

- The JAMA editorial, "New Physical Activity Guidelines - A Call to Activity for Clinicians and Patients", by Paul D. Thompson, M.D., Hartford Hospital, Hartford, Connecticut, and Thijs M.H. Eijsvogels, Ph.D., Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, the Netherlands. The government and many health officials recommend taking many small steps towards the overall goal, such as parking at the back of a store lot and walking to the entrance or taking the stairs in a building instead of using the elevator. Evidence suggests that more dedicated, accessible spaces in which to be physically active make it easier for individuals and communities to incorporate this into a daily routine. Things like this "can accumulate over the course of the day", DiPietro says.

Exercise can also improve cognition in those with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or dementia, the guidelines say, and even reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

One big change is that guidance for adults no longer requires physical activity to occur in blocks of at least 10 minutes. The second edition provides evidence-based recommendations for youth ages 3 through 17 and adults to safely get the physical activity they need to stay healthy.

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