You’ve probably heard that you need to work out for 30 minutes, five days a week. But have you ever wondered where those exercise recommendations come from? Often, they are taken from something called the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. This document, which is created by the government, translates existing science and research into specific goals that will help you stay healthy and reduce your risk of chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease.
The guidelines were originally published 10 years ago, but since a lot has changed in the past decade, they were just updated. Here’s what the changes mean for you:
The main recommendation for adults didn’t change. You should still strive for between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity—something like brisk walking would work—and two days of strength training a week.
But there is something new in there: The addition of the phrase, “Move more and sit less.” This comes from research showing the dangers of sitting all day long. “We looked at sedentary behavior and found a relationship between sitting time and mortality,” says William Kraus, MD, one of the committee members for the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report and a professor at Duke University. “The impact is exponential—it’s really frightening. Even if you have a desk job, try to get up from your chair whenever possible, like to chat with a colleague in person instead of picking up the phone.”
Another thing: Now, every bit of activity counts. While the previous version of the Physical Activity Guidelines stated that you need to move for at least 10 minutes for the activity to improve your health, the belief now is that even small bits of movement are beneficial. “We found that every minute of movement that’s moderate intensity or more counts—it doesn’t have to be done in a 10-minute chunk,” says Dr. Kraus. “That’s incredibly freeing.”
Hopefully this change will help break you out of the mindset that you don’t have time to be active. Since everything counts, try parking your car far from the store and briskly walking to the entrance or heading up the stairs instead of the escalator at the mall.
Curious how you can use your Fitbit device to make sure you’re hitting these goals? The advisory committee looked at step counting, too. “Measuring steps is a popular way of determining physical activity, but we didn’t have enough information to come up with a specific number of steps someone would need to take to stay healthy,” says Dr. Kraus. “However, we did include a way to use a step counter to meet the recommendations.”
Here’s how to do it: The guidelines say to do between 150 and 300 minutes a week of moderate intensity walking. That comes out to about 15,000 steps a week, or a little more than 2,000 a day of moderate intensity walking as a minimum. But the key is realizing that number is above and beyond your typical daily movements, which tend to be low-intensity.
According to the guidelines, the average American probably takes about 5,000 of those low-intensity steps every day. Do a little math and you’ll see that based on the guidelines, you should aim for at least 7,000 to 9,000 total steps a day, of which 2,000 to 4,000 are moderate-intensity walking.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.