Tuesday , May 30 2017

Physical Activity Recommendations: Then, Now, and What to Expect in the Near Future

by Marzell I Gray, NPAS Board Member

Physical activity is movement that elevates the heart above normal resting states.  The question that is asked a lot is: What is the difference between physical activity and exercise?  Exercise is planned, structured, and repetitive activity. Physical activity typically involves day to day movements that in response, increase heart rate beyond the resting metabolic rate (RMR); Physical activity is recommended in bouts of a 10 minutes minimum.

As early as 1972 the American Heart Association (AHA) developed guidelines and recommendations that were primarily based on aerobic exercise to better performance (reissued in 1975, 1978, and 1990).  The reason behind this thinking was that a higher level of aerobic capacity is shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

In the 1980s, the guidelines took a turn to begin applying the recommendation as more of a public health concern. A major change emerged when Department of Human Health Services (DHHS) used a systematic review that included a 650-page summary of the science. In collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this review led to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (1).  These guidelines established the adult recommendation of a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity PA per week; for substantial benefits, it is recommended to get in 150-300 minutes per week of moderate physical activity or an equivalent of moderate and vigorous intensity per week.

In 2014 the federal representatives and external experts gathered to discuss potential topics for the new PAGA due out in 2018, in a meeting known as the State of the Science Meeting (1).  The topics that will be added to the new 2018 PAG based on the consensus of having sufficient evidence are Older Adults, and Dose (including variability from baseline and light activity) (1).  Other new categories being included are: Youth under age six, cognition across lifespan, and sedentary behavior (1).

How are Americans doing? In 2014, 5 out of 10 adults did not meet the Physical Activity Guidelines recommended amount of aerobic activity (2).  During the same time 3 out of 10 were inactive.  Over the course of 2010 through 2014 there were small improvements in leisure time physical activity (2).

The purpose of this the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is to be a resource for people on how to become more active and lead to a healthier quality of life. Some activity is always better than no activity. Physical Activity is the beginning phase to leading a healthier lifestyle. This is as simple as walking, biking, or even using your breaks at work to get up and walk for bouts of 10 minutes as recommended by the PAGA.


(1) Troiano, R. P. (2016). History of Physical Activity Recommendations and Guidelines for Americans. Office of Disease Prevention and Promotion. Retrieved from https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/meetings/1/

(2) Fulton, J. E. (2016). The State of Physical Activity in America. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/meetings/1/

About Pam Eidson

Pam Eidson is executive director of the National Physical Activity Society.

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