Do you want to prevent cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, injuries and unhealthy weight gain? Do you want to sleep better and improve your ability to think, reason and remember? If you do, move more and sit less.

That’s the recommendation shared in the new Second Edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published in November 2018.

“Regular physical activity is one of the most important things people can do to improve their health,” wrote Alex M. Azar II, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in the guidelines. “…The scientific evidence continues to build — physical activity is linked with even more positive health outcomes than we previously thought. And, even better, benefits can start accumulating with small amounts of, and immediately after doing, physical activity.”

Physical activity can improve physical and mental health, as well as academics. For children in elementary and middle school, the guidelines say that regular activity improves memory, attention and performance in the classroom. Activity improves mental health by reducing children’s and adults’ risk of depression. For older adults, regular activity can cut the risk of falling and suffering injuries from falls. Just one session of physical activity can reduce your anxiety and even improve your sleep that night.

While the guidelines recommend that adults move at least 150 minutes a week and school-age children move 60 minutes a day, that might be more than you and your family can do right now.

“Do what you can,” the guidelines state. “Even 5 minutes of physical activity has real health benefits.”

While regular activity can improve health in many ways and lower the risk for common chronic diseases that last a lifetime, most Alaska adults, youth and children do not meet the recommendations for activity. Nearly 4 out of 5 Alaska adults and teenagers don’t get enough aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity during the week.

Looking for a quick summary of the guidelines? Read the Top 10 Things to Know online. The recently updated Physical Activity Guidelines share new recommendations supported by science.

Immediate benefits for how people feel, function and sleep

According to the guidelines, just one session of physical activity can reduce anxiety, improve memory, lower blood pressure and improve your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels. The guidelines confirm that activity can improve quality of sleep for adults. It can reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and can increase the amount of time in deep sleep. It also can cut down on daytime sleepiness.

Risks of not being physically active

For the best health, adults need to move more. Increased time in low-levels of activity — like sitting, lying down, or watching TV or some other type of digital screen —  is linked with increased risk for death, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and several types of cancer, the guidelines state.

For the most health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes (1 ¼ hours) of vigorous activity each week. Adults should do muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week. Moderate activity includes anything that gets your heart beating faster, such as biking, hiking, recreational swimming or raking the yard. Jogging, running, carrying heavy groceries or shoveling snow are examples of vigorous activities.

Importance of encouraging physical activity early in life

Parents and caregivers should help children ages 3–5 be active throughout the day. The guidelines state this regular activity will improve their growth, development and bone strength, and help them grow up at a healthy weight.

The guidelines continue to recommend that older children ages 6–17 play every day for 60 minutes or more. This should include a mix of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities.

Short bursts of activity bring benefits

The new guidelines stress that any amount of physical activity has some health benefits. The previous edition of the guidelines stated that only 10-minute sessions of activity counted toward meeting the guidelines. The new edition removes this requirement and encourages people to move more frequently throughout the entire day.

For more information about the importance of physical activity, visit the Active People, Healthy Nation website.

Contributed by:
Division of Public Health, Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Injury Prevention
State of Alaska