Physical Activity Information

National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Physical Activity and Health - A Report of the Surgeon General
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Nutrition and Physical Activity


At-A-Glance

The At-A-Glance is presented here in its entirety.
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A NEW VIEW OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY:

This report brings together, for the first time, what has been learned about physical activity and health from decades of research. Among its major findings:

  • People who are usually inactive can improve their health and well-being by becoming even moderately active on a regular basis.

  • Physical activity need not be strenuous to achieve health benefits.

  • Greater health benefits can be achieved by increasing the amount (duration, frequency, or intensity) of physical activity.

THE BENEFITS OF REGULAR PHYSICAL ACTIVITY:

Regular physical activity that is performed on most days of the week reduces the risk of developing or dying from some of the leading causes of illness and death in the United States. Regular physical activity improves health in the following ways:

  • Reduces the risk of dying prematurely.

  • Reduces the risk of dying from heart disease.

  • Reduces the risk of developing diabetes.

  • Reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure.

  • Helps reduce blood pressure in people who already have high blood pressure.

  • Reduces the risk of developing colon cancer.

  • Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety.

  • Helps control weight.

  • Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints.

  • Helps older adults become stronger and better able to move about without falling.

  • Promotes psychological well-being.

A MAJOR PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERN:

Given the numerous health benefits of physical activity, the hazards of being inactive are clear. Physical inactivity is a serious, nationwide problem. Its scope poses a public health challenge for reducing the national burden of unnecessary illness and premature death.

WHAT IS A MODERATE AMOUNT OF PHYSICAL ACTIVITY?

As the examples listed in the box show, a moderate amount of physical activity* can be achieved in a variety of ways. People can select activities that they enjoy and that fit into their daily lives. Because amount of activity is a function of duration, intensity, and frequency, the same amount of activity can be obtained in longer sessions of moderately intense activities (such as brisk walking) as in shorter sessions of more strenuous activities (such as running): +

EXAMPLES OF MODERATE AMOUNTS OF ACTIVITY:

Less Vigorous, More Time

Washing and waxing a car for 45-60 minutes
Washing windows or floors for 45-60 minutes
Playing volleyball for 45 minutes
Playing touch football for 30-45 minutes
Gardening for 30-45 minutes
Wheeling self in wheelchair for 30-40 minutes
Walking 1 3/4 miles in 35 minutes (20 min/mile)
Basketball (shooting baskets) for 30 minutes
Bicycling 5 miles in 30 minutes
Dancing fast (social) for 30 minutes
Pushing a stroller 1 1/2 miles in 30 minutes
Raking leaves for 30 minutes
Walking 2 miles in 30 minutes (15 min/mile)
Water aerobics for 30 minutes
Swimming laps for 20 minutes
Wheelchair basketball for 20 minutes
Basketball (playing a game) for 15-20 minutes
Bicycling 4 miles in 15 minutes
Jumping rope for 15 minutes
Running 1 1/2 miles in 15 minutes (10 min/mile)
Shoveling snow for 15 minutes
Stairwalking for 15 minutes

More Vigorous, Less Time

* A moderate amount of physical activity is roughly equivalent to physical activity that uses approximately 150 Calories (kcal) of energy per day, or 1,000 Calories per week.
+ Some activities can be performed at various intensities; the suggested durations correspond to expected intensity of effort.

PRECAUTIONS FOR A HEALTHY START:

To avoid soreness and injury, individuals contemplating an increase in physical activity should start out slowly and gradually build up to the desired amount to give the body time to adjust. People with chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, or obesity, or who are at high risk for these problems should first consult a physician before beginning a new program of physical activity. Also, men over age 40 and women over age 50 who plan to begin a new vigorous physical activity program should consult a physician first to be sure they do not have heart disease or other health problems.

STATUS OF THE NATION – A NEED FOR CHANGE:

Adults

  • More than 60 percent of adults do not achieve the recommended amount of regular physical activity. In fact, 25 percent of all adults are not active at all.

  • Inactivity increases with age and is more common among women than men and among those with lower income and less education than among those with higher income or education

      

Adolescents and Young Adults

  • Nearly half of young people aged 12-21 are not vigorouslyactive on a regular basis.

  • Physical activity declines dramatically with age during adolescence.

  • Female adolescents are much less physically active than male adolescents.

      Physical Activity Levels of Adolescents and Young Adults, by Age and Sex

 

High School Students

  • In high school, enrollment in daily physical education classes dropped from 42 percent in 1991 to 25 percent in 1995.

  • Only 19 percent of all high school students are physically active for 20 minutes or more in physical education classes every day during the school week.

IDEAS FOR IMPROVEMENT:

This report identifies promising ways to help people include more physical activity in their daily lives.

  • Well-designed programs in schools to increase physical activity in physical education classes have been shown to be effective.

  • Carefully planned counseling by health care providers and worksite activity programs can increase individuals’ physical activity levels.

  • Promising approaches being tried in some communities around the nation include opening school buildings and shopping malls for walking before or after regular hours, as well as building bicycle and walking paths separated from automobile traffic. Revising building codes to require accessible stairwells is another idea that has been suggested

SPECIAL MESSAGES FOR SPECIAL POPULATIONS:

Older Adults

No one is too old to enjoy the benefits of regular physical activity. Of special interest to older adults is evidence that muscle-strengthening exercises can reduce the risk of falling and fracturing bones and can improve the ability to live independently.

Parents

Parents can help their children maintain a physically active lifestyle by providing encouragement and opportunities for physical activity. Family events can include opportunities for everyone in the family to be active.

Teenagers

Regular physical activity improves strength, builds lean muscle, and decreases body fat. It can build stronger bones to last a lifetime.

Dieters

Regular physical activity burns Calories and preserves lean muscle mass. It is a key component of any weight loss effort and is important for controlling weight.

People with High Blood Pressure

Regular physical activity helps lower blood pressure.

People Feeling Anxious, Depressed, or Moody

         Regular physical activity improves mood, helps
relieve depression, and increases feelings of well-being.

People with Arthritis

          Regular physical activity can help control joint swelling
and pain. Physical activity of the type and amount
recommended for health has not been shown to cause
arthritis.

People with Disabilities

        Regular physical activity can help people with chronic,
disabling conditions improve their stamina and muscle
strength and can improve psychological well-being and
quality of life by increasing the ability to perform
activities of daily life.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity, MS K-46
4770 Buford Highway, NE
Atlanta, Georgia 30341-3724
1-888-CDC-4NRG or 1-888-232-4674 (Toll Free)
http://www.cdc.gov

The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
Box SG
Suite 250
701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004

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Fun Physical Activity Extends Life up to 4.5 years

NIH study finds leisure-time physical activity extends life expectancy as much as 4.5 years

Leisure-time physical activity is associated with longer life expectancy, even at relatively low levels of activity and regardless of body weight, according to a study by a team of researchers led by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health. The study, which found that people who engaged in leisure-time physical activity had life expectancy gains of as much as 4.5 years, appeared Nov. 6, 2012, in PLoS Medicine External Web Site Policy.

Couple on bike ride
A man adjusts a woman’s helmet strap as they prepare for a bicycle ride.

In order to determine the number of years of life gained from leisure-time physical activity in adulthood, which translates directly to an increase in life expectancy, researchers examined data on more than 650,000 adults. These people, mostly age 40 and older, took part in one of six population-based studies that were designed to evaluate various aspects of cancer risk.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the parent agency of NIH, recommends that adults ages 18 to 64 engage in regular aerobic physical activity External Web Site Policy for 2.5 hours at moderate intensity — or 1.25 hours at vigorous intensity — each week. Moderate activities are those during which a person could talk but not sing. Vigorous activities are those during which a person could say only a few words without stopping for breath.

After accounting for other factors that could affect life expectancy, the researchers found that life expectancy was 3.4 years longer for people who reported they got the recommend level of physical activity. People who reported leisure-time physical activity at twice the recommended level gained 4.2 years of life. In general, more physical activity corresponded to longer life expectancy.

Bar chart of life expectancy lossese
This bar graph displays years of life loss at various body weights and levels of activity (met guidelines, 50 of guidelines, and inactive). For normal weight, the years lost by activity level were 0, 2.4 and 4.7. For overweight, 0. 1.8 and 3.9. For Obese Level 1 (BMI under 35), 1.6, 3.2, and 5. For Obese Level 2 (BMI over 35), 4.5, 6.2, 7.2.

The researchers even saw benefit at low levels of activity. For example, people who said they got half of the recommended amount of physical activity still added 1.8 years to their life.

“Our findings highlight the important contribution that leisure-time physical activity in adulthood can make to longevity,” said study author Steven Moore, Ph.D., of NCI’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, and lead author of the study. “Regular exercise extended the lives in every group that we examined in our study — normal weight, overweight, or obese.”

The researchers found that the association between physical activity and life expectancy was similar between men and women, and blacks gained more years of life expectancy than whites. The relationship between life expectancy and physical activity was stronger among those with a history of cancer or heart disease than among people with no history of cancer or heart disease.

The researchers also examined how life expectancy changed with the combination of both activity and obesity. Obesity was associated with a shorter life expectancy, but physical activity helped to mitigate some of the harm. People who were obese and inactive had a life expectancy that was between five to seven years shorter (depending on their level of obesity) than people who were normal weight and moderately active.

Bar chart of life expectancy gains
This bar graph displays the years of life gained when participants met various percentages of HHS guidelines for physical activity. 50% = 1.8 years. 100% = 3.4 years. 200% = 4.2 years. 300% = 4.5 years.

Physical activity has been shown to help maintain a healthy body weight, maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints, promote psychological well-being, and reduce the risk of certain diseases,including some cancers.

“We must not underestimate how important physical activity is for health – even modest amounts can add years to our life,” said I-Min Lee, M.D., Sc.D. External Web Site Policy, professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Mass., and senior author on the study.

This work was supported by NCI’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics under intramural project number ZIACP010196 and by NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences under grants CA105069 and CA047988. Additional support was received from two other parts of the NIH, the National Institute on Aging (AG18033), and the National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute (HL043851 and HL080467).

NCI leads the National Cancer Program and the NIH effort to dramatically reduce the burden of cancer and improve the lives of cancer patients and their families, through research into prevention and cancer biology, the development of new interventions, and the training and mentoring of new researchers. For more information about cancer, please visit the NCI website at http://www.cancer.gov or call NCI’s Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visithttp://www.nih.gov.

NIH…Turning Discovery Into Health ®


Reference: Moore SC, et al. Leisure Time Physical Activity of Moderate to Vigorous Intensity and Mortality: A Large Pooled Cohort Analysis. PLoS Medicine. November 6, 2012. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001335.