‘Any Amount of Activity Is Good.’ We’re Still Not Getting Enough

An Arivale Hot Topic

Jennifer Lovejoy, Arivale Chief Science Officer, PhD
Jennifer Lovejoy
Arivale Chief Science Officer, PhD

In the 10 years since the federal government released its Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, there have been considerable advances in the science of physical activity, including new insights into the benefits of exercise and harms of sitting too much. An update to the guidelines released this month distills this breadth of research into practical, easy-to-understand advice.

The Guidelines

A key message of the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans – whose publication was covered by NPR – is a simple but powerful one:

“Adults should move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits.”

In terms of formal exercise, the 2018 guidelines haven’t changed much from 2008: Adults should get 150 minutes or more of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes or more of vigorous aerobic activity per week (and preferably spread throughout the week).

Greater health benefits are seen with longer periods of exercise, meaning 300 minutes or more per week. Strength training is recommended on at least two days per week for the additional health benefits it provides. And, older adults are recommended to include some “multicomponent” physical activity that includes balance training – but are cautioned to know their limits and understand how any chronic conditions they may have impact the type and amount of exercise advised.

One significant change in the new guidelines is that they no longer discuss the need to accumulate physical activity in bouts of at least 10 minutes, as the old guidelines did. Current research on the health benefits of reducing sedentary behavior suggests that any activity, of any duration, accumulated throughout the day has benefit.

The study in JAMA summarizing the new guidelines documents evidence of multiple physical and mental health benefits of physical activity that are called out in the new guidelines. These benefits include positive effects on brain health, reduction of cancer risk, and immediate as well as long-term benefits on how people “function, feel, and sleep.”

Arivale’s Take

The new guidelines provide a comprehensive overview of why physical activity is beneficial and how much you need. However, the sad fact remains that most people in the United States don’t meet the basic guidelines that have been in place since 2008. According to the JAMA article, only 26 percent of men and 19 percent of women get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity and two days of muscle-strengthening activity per week.

So, a key question remains how can more people get the physical activity needed for optimal physical and mental health?

One aspect that’s helpful in this regard is the emphasis in the new guidelines on “any amount of activity is good.” For people who are sedentary, it’s not necessary to set huge, unrealistic goals that are hard to stick to. The guidelines are clear: you just need to start moving more throughout the day. Park farther away from the door, take the stairs instead of the elevator, get up and walk to your coworker’s desk rather than emailing. Using an activity tracker can help you get a baseline of how many minutes or steps you get each day and help you increase them over time.

But, ultimately developing a habit of regular physical activity takes solid behavioral support:

  • What is your core motivator – the unique reason you’re passionate about getting adequate physical activity? The guidelines call out the short-term benefits, which are often key to establishing a new habit: a single bout of moderate-to-vigorous exercise can reduce anxiety, improve sleep, improve cognition, reduce blood pressure and improve insulin sensitivity. Or, is your motivator more long-term, like preventing dementia or heart disease so you can be around to play with your grandchildren?
  • How are you going to stay accountable and make physical activity a regular habit? Do you have a workout buddy or is there an app that can help make sure you stick to your routine?
  • How are you going to get back on track after a lapse? It happens to all of us: we get the flu, go on vacation, or sustain an injury that prevents us from exercising for a while. What do you need to get back on track so a temporary lapse doesn’t become a relapse?

As we look to the upcoming holiday season, start planning how you can incorporate fun physical activities with friends and family into your holiday plans.

Further Reading


[Arivale Hot Topics address health stories currently in the news. The Arivale Clinical Team’s commentary on these news articles is not a review of the scientific evidence, nor an endorsement of a specific study, and is not meant as official medical opinion.]