Some Exercise Is Better Than None, But Make More Your Goal
By Lee Sandford
The World Health Organization has released new guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviors for the first time since 2010. I’m sure the irony is lost on no-one that at the end of a year in which we were told to stay at home, these guidelines are recommending that we get out and exercise more. However, bear in mind, these guidelines have been in development for several years, therefore using pre-pandemic information. They state that 27 percent of adults don’t get enough exercise, nor, sadly, do a whopping 81 percent of adolescents; and one can only assume these numbers have been worse this year. What also struck me when reading the guidelines at this particular time in history, is they stress that through these measures we can reduce the burden on our health care systems.
Okay, so what amount and kind of physical activity are you supposed to be getting? Here’s a brief summary, by age group:
- At least 150-300 minutes of moderate, or 75-150 minutes of vigorous exercise per week, or an equivalent combination of both.
- Incorporate strength work two or more days per week.
- Limit the amount of time spent being sedentary.
- Adults may increase their activity beyond the 300/150-minute thresholds for additional benefits.
Ages 65 and older should engage in varied activity that emphasizes functional balance and strength training and also limit sedentary time.
So, unless you’re diligently working out for approximately 30-40 minutes every day, those numbers may look daunting. But there is some good news. There’s a phrase that is repeated throughout the report and should be engrained in your brain for when your motivation is low: <Some physical activity is better than none.> Health benefits still occur even if you’re not meeting the thresholds. More activity is better, which is why experts mention going beyond the thresholds, but there is a diminishing rate of return at higher levels of activity. So, there’s a second piece of great news if you’re just building up your activity minutes: Your 30-minute walk provides incremental health benefits. Thirdly, the 2010 guidelines called for exercise bouts of at least ten minutes, but now bouts of any duration count, because total physical activity volume is a better marker.
In older adults, the recommendations address the crucial role exercise plays in preventing falls, fall-related injuries, frailty, and osteoporosis. The muscle strengthening recommendations for all populations are not new, but the report cited widespread studies on their increasing importance.
I personally love the underlying message that variety is good — whether in intensity, strength versus cardio, even down to on your busiest days aiming to get several small walks in, without even changing into your workout clothes. I measure my workouts and steps using my Garmin watch, and I’m always surprised how a day off structured exercise can end up being very active by walking to pick up lunch instead of driving, parking at the furthest away point in the parking lot, etc.
Children, ages 5-17
- Get an average of 60 minutes moderate to vigorous exercise per day.
- Incorporate vigorous intensity and strength work at least three days a week.
- Limit the amount of time spent being sedentary, “particularly the amount of recreational screen time.”
The report concludes that sedentary time is related to adverse health outcomes, but more so when that time is spent on television viewing and non-scholastic screen time. Among the numerous health benefits of exercise for kids, according to the report, are better cognitive outcomes and reduced symptoms of depression.
New in the guidelines is the inclusion of the special populations of pregnant and post-partum women, and people living with chronic conditions or disabilities. The studies are interesting and the benefits of exercise for all remain fascinating to me, but the main message remains the same for these populations. You guessed it: Some exercise is better than none.