(CN) – Americans should strive to move more and sit less often each day, according to updated physical activity guidelines released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the first time in a decade.
The new guidelines released Monday, the first since 2008, are science-based and aimed to help combat the obesity epidemic that impacts nearly 40 percent of Americans and adds almost $117 billion to the cost of health care each year.
Adults are advised to “move more and sit less throughout the day” and the weekly suggested total is at least two and a half hours of moderate-intensity exercise, the report states.
The same amount of time is suggested for women during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Older adults are encouraged to have a similar routine but should only exercise to the extent that their abilities and conditions permit.
Achieving exercise benchmarks is now easier because any amount of physical activity counts toward the weekly suggested total, according to the Health and Human Services report. Moreover, the previous recommendation for adults to exercise for at least 10 minutes in order to be counted toward their weekly total is gone, as evidence shows even short bouts of exercise – such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator – are helpful.
Among other significant changes to the guidelines is the directive to start kids young – the recommended age to begin exercise dropped from 6 years old to 3. There is no suggested amount of weekly physical activity time for that age group, but the report says roughly three hours per day of activity of all intensity levels is appropriate.
For children and teens ages 6 through 17, at least one hour per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily is suggested, most of which should be aerobic. The report also recommendations vigorous muscle and bone-strengthening exercises, such as playing sports, at least three times a week for children and adolescents.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, only 26 percent of men, 19 percent of women and 20 percent of teens meet the recommendations for physical activity.
The updated guidelines were presented at an American Heart Association conference in Chicago and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar included a note of encouragement in the guidelines.
“We all have a role to play in this critical effort. I invite you to join me in helping our country be more physically active,” Azar wrote in a message at the beginning of the report. “If we all move more and sit less today and work toward meeting the physical activity guidelines ourselves, we will be well on our way to creating a healthier nation and ensuring everyone can live healthier and more active lives.”