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Healthy Living Message: Be Physically Active

Less than half of U.S. adults get the amount of physical activity they need.

A older man swimming

All adults should avoid inactivity. Some physical activity is better than none. Those who do any amount of physical activity gain some health benefits. Physical activity is safe for almost everyone. The health benefits of physical activity far outweigh the risks. If you do not have a chronic condition (such as diabetes, heart disease, or arthritis) and you do not have symptoms (e.g., chest pain or pressure, dizziness, or joint pain), you do not need to talk to a health care provider before you become more active. If you have a concern about a health condition, talk with your health care team. Together, you can decide the types and amount of activity that are best for you. Studies show, regular physical activity may decrease the risk for developing depression, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, and some kinds of cancer.

Physical activity is anything that gets the body moving. Start at a comfortable level. Once this begins to seem easy, add a little more activity each time. Then try doing it more often. People of all ages and all body types can benefit from physical activity. Even if you are out of shape or have not been active in a long time, you can begin activity safely.

For important health benefits, you should do at least 2½ hours each week of moderate-intensity, or 1¼ hours a week of vigorous-intensity, aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both.

  • Moderate-intensity - Your body is working at a moderate intensity when you can talk but not sing. This includes things like walking fast, dancing, and raking leaves.

  • Vigorous-intensity - Your body is working at a vigorous intensity when you cannot say more than a few words without pausing for a breath. This includes things like jogging, jumping rope, swimming laps, or riding a bike uphill.

  • Aerobic activity (also called endurance activity) is when you move your body's large muscles in a rhythmic manner for a sustained period of time and your heart beats faster than usual. Aerobic activity should be in episodes of at least 10 minutes, and it is best to spread these out during the week.

Two women excersing

Muscle strengthening activity causes your body's muscles to work or hold against an applied force or weight. This includes resistance training and lifting weights. Resistance can be generated using elastic bands, handheld weights or body weight. The effects of muscle-strengthening activity are limited to the muscles doing the work. Strengthening activities should be performed on at leasttwo non-consecutive days each week. It should target all the major muscle groups: legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms.

Stretching can produce the following benefits: increased flexibility, improved joint range of motion, improved circulation, and stress relief. How often should a person stretch? Generally, it is best to stretch when engaging in physical activity. For those who are not active on a regular basis, stretching at least three times per week to maintain flexibility is a good starting point.

Bottom line: Avoid inactivity. Some activity is better than none. Aim for at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. Every 10 minute session counts. Do strengthening activities at least two days each week.

Read More

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans

Healthfinder: A Guide to Reliable Health Information on Physical Activity and Other Topics, HHS

President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition (PCFSN), HHS

The President's Challenge

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HHS

Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, HHS

Healthfinder: Get Active