New exercise guidelines: Even parking a little farther away counts

“Everyone should be able to walk from their homes to the park, or walk to work," a CDC expert said.
The new guidelines, the first in 10 years from the federal government, also highlight more of the benefits of regular exercise.
The new guidelines, the first in 10 years from the federal government, also highlight more of the benefits of regular exercise.Justin Case / Getty Images

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By Maggie Fox

New exercise guidelines released Monday urged schools to keep little kids active throughout the day, every day, and not just in gym class.

The guidelines also aim to make it a little easier for Americans to reach the minimum goals of 2 ½ hours of exercise a week by stressing that even parking the car a little further out in the parking lot can add to the total.

The new guidelines, the first in 10 years from the federal government, also highlight more of the benefits of regular exercise, from reducing the risk of at least eight different cancers to helping people think more clearly.

“Instead of things getting harder and harder and harder and harder, it is actually easier to achieve the recommendations in the physical activity guidelines,” Dr. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Health and Human Services Department, said at a news conference.

For instance, previous guidelines recommended 10-minute bouts of exercise at the minimum. Now it’s clear that even a little bit, such as taking the stairs instead of an escalator, can help improve health.

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It was probably necessary to make the goals sound easier. Eighty percent of Americans fail to get enough exercise, the HHS said. That raises the risk of early death, the risk of depression and anxiety and the risk of diseases of aging, including Alzheimer’s.

The guidelines:

  • Adults should move more and sit less.
  • Adults need at least 2 1/2 hours to five hours a week of moderate intensity exercise or 1 hour, 15 minutes to 2 ½ hours of intense activity every week. These are minimums: More is better.
  • Adults also need strength training of some sort two or more days a week.
  • Children aged 6-17 need at least an hour of exercise a day, including bone-strengthening exercise such as jumping rope.
  • Toddlers and small children need to keep active throughout the day, getting a minimum of three hours of light, moderate and intense exercise every day.
  • Exercise is essential for healthy aging and older adults should do as much as they can, including muscle-strengthening and balancing exercises, which can include dancing or group exercise classes.
  • Pregnant women need exercise too, including 2 ½ hours of moderate exercise every week.

The benefits of this much exercise:

  • Small children grow stronger bones and stay at healthier weights.
  • Older kids learn better.
  • Lower risk of eight types of cancer: breast, colon, lung, endometrial, bladder, esophageal, kidney, and stomach.
  • Better memory and thinking, reduced anxiety and depression risk, and improved sleep.
  • Lower risks of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Moderate-intensity activities include walking briskly at 2.5 to 4 mph, playing volleyball, or raking the yard, the guidelines read.

“Examples of vigorous-intensity activities include jogging or running, carrying heavy groceries, or participating in a strenuous fitness class. Some activities, such as swimming or riding a bicycle, can be either moderate or vigorous intensity, depending on the effort.”

If you can still talk but cannot sing, the activity is moderate. If you have to take a breath before completing a sentence, the activity is probably intense.

Intense activity counts for more. “For adults, a general rule is that two minutes of moderate-intensity activity counts the same as one minute of vigorous-intensity activity,” the guidelines read.

Schools really need to do more, said Russell Pate, an exercise expert at the University of South Carolina who helped draw up the guidelines.

“Part of the answer is to provide kids with high-quality physical education,” Pate said at the news conference. Before-and after-school programs, active learning that allows kids to move around in the classroom and finding ways to help kids walk to bike to school safely can also help keep them active, Pate said.

Policies that help transform communities will also help, said Janet Fulton of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Everyone should have the right to walk or bike in their neighborhood,” Fulton said. “Everyone should be able to walk from their homes to the park, or walk to work.”