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How Much Physical Activity is Enough?

Kids run with mom outsideThe Department of Health and Human Services has published guidelines for physical activity based on the most current research. Not surprisingly, these guidelines confirm that active people are more fit and have less risk for many disabling medical conditions and chronic diseases than people who are inactive.

Children – 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day
Active children have healthier hearts and lungs, stronger muscles and bones and greater endurance than inactive children. They also are less likely to get type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. And they suffer less from depression and anxiety.

Children need aerobic activities like swimming and biking for heart and lung health and to reduce risk for chronic diseases, as well as resistance activities like running, gymnastics and dance to build muscle and bone strength.

Adults – At least 30 minutes a day, five days a week
Thirty minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity five days a week is enough to reduce risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and death from all causes.

However, to reduce risk for colon and breast cancer, prevent unhealthy weight gain or lose weight, 3-5 hours of activity per week is necessary. That’s about 45 to 60 minutes, five days a week. You may not be able to do 30 to 60 minutes of activity all at once. Doing a minimum of 10 minutes at the same exercise intensity several times throughout the day may be just as effective as one long session.

Examples of beneficial activities:

  • walking briskly
  • pushing a stroller
  • gardening while standing

You don’t need to run for hours or have rock hard abs to cut your risk of developing chronic diseases. More vigorous exercise seems to produce greater health benefits than less intense activity, but any activity is beneficial. Some research shows that even if the person can only exercise for an hour a week, they are still less likely to die prematurely or develop heart disease.

Older adults also need muscle strengthening 
Older adults need balance training and muscle strengthening activities three times a week and moderately intense walking at least twice a week for 30 minutes at a time.

Regular physical activity reduces falls by senior adults by 30 percent. Activities like gentle yoga and tai chi are good options.

Options for pregnant women
Moderately intense exercise is safe for pregnant women and does not affect breast-feeding. It will not cause premature labor, low birth weight or miscarriage. Good choices are walking, swimming and water aerobics.

To read the physical activity guidelines, visit www.health.gov/paguidelines/Report/Default.aspx.