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New Physical Activity Tools for Physicians and Patients

Help your patients meet their exercise and weight management resolutions  for the New Year
By Anna Gonzales, MPH and Lesley J. Craig, MPH

IT HAS BEEN over 10 years since the nation’s first Physical Activity Guidelines were issued. In November 2018, after rigorous scientific evidence review, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the second edition, and incorporated a vast amount of new evidence-based research about physical activity and health since the original 2008 publication. The Guidelines provide recommendations for children and adults.

Currently in the U.S., only 26% of men, 19% of women, and 20% of adolescents meet the recommended guidelines. These low levels of physical activity among Americans result in health and economic consequences for individuals and the nation--nearly $117 billion in annual healthcare costs and 10% of all premature mortality are attributable to failure to meet levels of aerobic physical activity recommended in the guidelines.

New Knowledge and Strategies
The new edition, based on a comprehensive scientific review, shows that physical activity contributes even more health benefits than previously known. It reflects new knowledge and additional topics of discussion including benefits related to brain health, lower risk of eight types of cancer, reduction of fall-related injuries, and immediate and longer-term benefits for how people feel, function, and sleep. It also describes the risks of sedentary behavior, as well as new evidence that physical activity can help manage chronic conditions. The second edition includes new guidance for preschool children and highlights benefits of physical activity for older adults.

Specific Populations
The updated Guidelines provides evidence-based recommendations. These are:

Adults: 150 minutes of moderate-tovigorous aerobic activity each week, with muscle strengthening activities on two days.
Youth (ages 6-17): 60 minutes of moderate-tovigorous physical activity each day. Kids and teens also need bone-strengthening activity at least three days a week and muscle-strengthening activity at least three days a week.
Preschool children (ages 3-5): activity throughout the day to enhance growth and development—active play (light, moderate, or vigorous intensity), at least three hours each day.

The Guidelines also include recommendations for older adults, women during pregnancy and the postpartum period, adults with chronic health conditions, and adults with disabilities.

Notable Updates
There are also other updates that you should review. These include:
• The old guidelines stated that at least 10-minute bouts of physical activity counted toward meeting the guidelines. This guidance has been removed because all activity counts.
• There are immediate health benefits from a single bout of activity, including reduced anxiety and blood pressure, improved sleep quality, and improved insulin sensitivity.
• There are more long-term benefits, such as improved brain health, reduced risk of eight types of cancer, reduced risk for fall-related injuries in older adults, and reduced risk of excessive weight gain.
• Physical activity helps manage more chronic health conditions. It 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.

Talk to Your Patients
To accompany the updated Guidelines, the HHS Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion created the “Move Your Way” campaign, which has fact sheets, posters, videos, and interactive tools. A fact sheet for health care providers gives tips on discussing physical activity, sharing the recommendations, and inspiring patients to get more active. It provides conversation starters, and strategies to overcome patient barriers. It also suggests tools and materials to share with patients, which are easy-to-use and don’t require a log-in or password. Download the updated Guidelines, and access “Move Your Way” promotional tools at

Anna Gonzales, MPH, is a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service and acting regional health administrator, and Lesley Craig, MPH, is a public health advisor at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health—Region 5 (IL, IN, MI, MN, OH, WI). Contact us at

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