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Physical Activity Guidelines

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In July 2011 a UK-wide,
 Chief Medical Officer’s report presented new physical activity guidelines covering early years; children and young people; adults; and older adults. This is the first time UK guidelines have included recommendations for under fives and minimising sedentary behaviour:

EARLY YEARS (under 5s)
Start Active Stay Active

  • Physical activity should be encouraged from birth, particularly through floor-based play and water-based activities in safe environments. 
  • Children of pre-school age who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active daily for at least 180 minutes (3 hours), spread throughout the day. 
  • Under 5's should minimise the amount of time soent being sedentary (being restrained or sitting) for extended periods (except time spent sleeping) 

CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE (5-18 years)

  • All children and young people should engage in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes and up to several hours every day. 
  • Vigorous intensity activities, including those that strengthen muscle and bone, should be incorporated at least three days a week. 
  • All children and young people should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods.  

ADULTS (19-64 years)

  • Adults should aim to be active daily. Over a week, activity should add up to at least 150 minutes (2½ hours) of moderate intensity activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more – one way to approach this is to do 30 minutes on at least 5 days a week.  
  • Alternatively, comparable benefits can be achieved through 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity spread across the week or a combination of moderate and vigorous intensity activity.  
  • Adults should also undertake physical activity to improve muscle strength on at least two days a week.  
  • All adults should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods. 

OLDER ADULTS (65+ years)Cycling

  • Older adults who participate in any amount of physical activity gain some health benefits, including maintenance of good physical and cognitive function. Some physical activity is better than none, and more physical activity provides greater health benefits. 
  • Older adults should aim to be active daily. Over a week, activity should add up to at least 150 minutes (2½ hours) of moderate intensity activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more – one way to approach this is to do 30 minutes on at least 5 days a week. 
  • For those who are already regularly active at moderate intensity, comparable benefits can be achieved through 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity spread across the week or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. 
  • Older adults should also undertake physical activity to improve muscle strength on at least two days a week. 
  • Older adults at risk of falls should incorporate physical activity to improve balance and co-ordination on at least two days a week. 

American College of Sports Medicine Guidelines

Also in July 2001 The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) released new recommendations on the quantity and quality of exercise for adults, definitively answering the age-old question of how much exercise is actually enough. 

The position stand, titled "Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise," reflects current scientific evidence on physical activity and includes recommendations on aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility. Consistent with the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, ACSM’s overall recommendation is for most adults to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.

The basic recommendations – categoried by cardiorespiratory exercise, resistance exercise, flexibility exercise and neuromotor exercise – are as follows:

Cardiorespiratory Exercise

  • Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. 
  • Exercise recommendations can be met through 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (five days per week) or 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (three days per week). 
  • One continuous session and multiple shorter sessions (of at least 10 minutes) are both acceptable to accumulate desired amount of daily exercise. 
  • Gradual progression of exercise time, frequency and intensity is recommended for best adherence and least injury risk. 
  • People unable to meet these minimums can still benefit from some activity.  

Resistance Exercise

  • Adults should train each major muscle group two or three days each week using a variety of exercises and equipment. 
  • Very light or light intensity is best for older persons or previously sedentary adults starting exercise.  
  • Two to four sets of each exercise will help adults improve strength and power. 
  • For each exercise, 8-12 repetitions improve strength and power, 10-15 repetitions improve strength in middle-age and older persons starting exercise, and 15-20 repetitions improve muscular endurance. 
  • Adults should wait at least 48 hours between resistance training sessions. 

Flexibility Exercise

  • Adults should do flexibility exercises at least two or three days each week to improve range of motion.   
  • Each stretch should be held for 10-30 seconds to the point of tightness or slight discomfort.   
  • Repeat each stretch two to four times, accumulating 60 seconds per stretch.   
  • Static, dynamic, ballistic and PNF stretches are all effective.   
  • Flexibility exercise is most effective when the muscle is warm. Try light aerobic activity or a hot bath to warm the muscles before stretching.  

Neuromotor Exercise

  • Neuromotor exercise (sometimes called “functional fitness training”) is recommended for two or three days per week. 
  • Exercises should involve motor skills (balance, agility, coordination and gait), proprioceptive exercise training and multifaceted activities (tai ji and yoga) to improve physical function and prevent falls in older adults. 
  • 20-30 minutes per day is appropriate for neuromotor exercise. 
  • In addition to outlining basic recommendations and their scientific reasoning, the position stand also clarifies these new points: 
  • Though exercise protects against heart disease, it is still possible for active adults to develop heart problems. All adults must be able to recognize the warning signs of heart disease, and all health care providers should ask patients about these symptoms. 

Sedentary behavior – sitting for long periods of time – is distinct from physical activity and has been shown to be a health risk in itself. Meeting the guidelines for physical activity does not make up for a sedentary lifestyle.