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Do you consider yourself fit? If you take a close look at the new government guidelines, you might not be so sure.

In November, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) released a new version of its Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans to help people understand how much exercise they need to be doing in order to stay healthy. It’s the first update to the guidelines since the original report was released in 2008.

If your level of exercise is already in line with the recommendations, you’re in the minority. According to the HHS, just 26% of men and 19% of women meet the minimum standards. The low levels of compliance have resulted in almost $117 billion dollars in health care costs and are a factor in 10% of early deaths.

According to the report, getting adequate levels of exercise has numerous benefits, including:

  • Improved energy and lower stress levels
  • Improved brain health and lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s
  • Immediate and long-term improvements in sleep patterns
  • Lower risk of chronic disease including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes
  • Lower risk of 8 types of cancer (bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, stomach, and lung)
  • Lower risk of depression
  • Improved bone health and physical function
  • Better quality of life

The report recommends that adults do at least 2.5-5 hours of moderate-intensity exercise (like biking, dancing, gardening, walking briskly, or water aerobics) or 1.25-2.5 hours of vigorous exercise (like running, playing basketball, jumping rope, bicycling on hills, swimming laps, or martial arts) per week in order to see substantial health benefits.

If you’re not sure whether a certain exercise qualifies as moderate or vigorous, the HHS suggests doing the “talk test.” If you can talk easily while doing the exercise, it’s moderate; if it’s difficult to say more than a few words while maintaining your activity, the exercise qualifies as vigorous.

The report also suggests that adults do muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups—such as pushups, sit-ups, and weight lifting—on 2 or more days every week.

If you aren’t already meeting these guidelines, don’t try to get there all at once. If you are not currently exercising, consult your doctor before you start any new fitness regimen, then start with lower-intensity activities and gradually increase the frequency and duration of your exercise periods. Continue to follow the new HHS fitness guidelines to improve your health.


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