According to guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), for general health adults should aim for 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity each week. (1) When repeated regularly, aerobic activity improves cardiorespiratory fitness. Running, brisk walking, swimming, and cycling are all forms of aerobic activity.
Additionally, HHS encourages balance and stretching activities to enhance flexibility, as well as muscle-strengthening workouts two or more times a week. Older adults should focus more on balance exercises — like tai chi, which has been shown to improve stability and decrease fracture risk in older adults, according to a 2013 review published in December 2013 in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine — and continue to do as much aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities as their bodies can handle. (2)
RELATED: Report Finds a Large Majority of Adults Not Meeting Exercise Recommendations
The most recent version of the HHS physical activity guidelines (which were updated in 2018) eliminated the longstanding recommendation that exercise had to last at least 10 minutes to be counted toward your weekly requirement. According to the current guidelines, any increment of physical activity can be counted toward your weekly goal.
“This may stem from the concern that if people can’t do 10 minutes, they may get discouraged and do nothing,” says Neal Pire, CSCS, an exercise physiologist and the national director of wellness services at Castle Connolly Private Health Partners in New York City. According to HHS, nearly 80 percent of adults are not meeting those minimum aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise benchmarks. (1)
“Any time or form of exercise is better than none, whether it’s 1, 5, or 30 minutes,” Pire says.
The HHS encourages more playtime for preschool-aged children to enhance growth and development. This includes a mix of unstructured and active play, like biking, jumping, or swimming.
Children and adolescents between the ages of 6 and 17 should do one hour of moderate or vigorous physical activity a day. The majority of those 60 minutes should be spent doing aerobic activity — that which involves repetitive use of the large muscles, getting heart rate and breathing up. (1)
According to the guidelines, children and adolescents should do muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities, like jumping or exercises that use body weight for resistance, three times per week. (1)
Another important part of the HHS physical activity guidelines for all adults is a warning about the health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle. The guidelines recommend adults should move more and sit less throughout the day, though specific limits to sitting time are not specified.