Increasing Physical Activity

There is strong scientific evidence that physical activity helps people maintain a stable weight over time. People vary greatly in how much physical activity results in weight stability. Many people need more and some people need much more than the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week to maintain their weight. Some studies suggest that for people who have lost a great deal of weight, as much as 60-75 minutes of physical activity may be required each day to keep the weight off. For many people, finding the time to exercise is a great challenge but there are many benefits to exercise beyond weight management.

Physical activity burns calories. Combined with appropriate calorie intake, it is an important component of weight control. In both adults and children it helps prevent weight gain and also reduces adverse effects of overweight and obesity such as elevated blood pressure, hyerlipidemia, and glucose intolerance (high blood sugar). It decreases the risk of coronary heart diseases, stroke, and breast and colon cancer, and it contributes to healthy bones, muscles, and joints. Physical activity promotes healthy growth and development in children and reduces the risk of falls among older adults. It reduces the risk of anxiety and depression and promotes psychological wellbeing. Physical activity is associated with fewer hospitalizations, physician visits, and medications, and regular physical activity is recommended as a treatment for many chronic diseases, including arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, osteoporosis, and diabetes.

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that children engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity each and every day. It is important to emphasize vigorous physical activity for children, but recognize that children will exercise in spurts. Sending children outside to play each day is important because studies show that kids will exercise more and derive many other benefits from playing outside.

For adults, key recommendations include the following:

  • Although getting enough sleep at night is important, during the daytime, all adults should avoid inactivity and should seek opportunities to be more active. For example, take the stairs rather than the escalator and park the car further away from the entrance so that you can take a few extra steps.
  • Any physical activity is better than no physical activity and will produce some health benefits.
  • For good health, adults should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week, or an equivalent combination. Aerobic activities should be done for at least ten minutes at a time and should be spread throughout the week, and adults should engage in muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days per week.
  • Even greater health benefits can be achieved by increasing the amount and intensity of activity.

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