New guidelines for physical activity

Dr. Anne McTiernan co-authored the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' comprehensive new report
Dr. Anne McTiernan
Dr. Anne McTiernan, Public Health Sciences Division, was a member of the advisory committee that produced the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. McTiernan chaired the chapter on cancer. Center News File Photo

Adults gain substantial health benefits from two and a half hours a week of moderate aerobic physical activity, and children benefit from an hour or more of physical activity a day, according to the new Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The recommendations for people of all ages and physical conditions was released last week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Public Health Sciences Division's Dr. Anne McTiernan was one of the 13-member advisory committee that conducted the first thorough review of scientific research about physical activity and health in more than a decade and produced guidelines that should enable people to easily fit physical activity into their daily lives.

"Two and a half hours of physical activity per week may not sound like a lot, but many people are challenged to make the time," said McTiernan, who chaired the chapter on cancer. Her advice, “Make your daily life more active. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator, ride a stationary bike or do conditioning exercises while watching TV, or take a walk at lunch.”

According to the report—which was the most comprehensive of its kind—physical activity benefits children and adolescents, young and middle-aged adults, older adults, and those in every studied racial and ethnic group.

“It’s important for all Americans to be active," said Mike Leavitt, HHS secretary. “The evidence is clear, regular physical activity over months and years produces long-term health benefits and reduces the risk of many diseases. The more physically active you are, the more health benefits you gain.”

Regular physical activity reduces the risk in adults of early death; coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, colon and breast cancer, and depression. It can improve thinking ability in older adults and the ability to engage in activities needed for daily living. The recommended amount of physical activity in children and adolescents improves cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness as well as bone health, and contributes to favorable body composition.

Key guidelines by group:

Children and Adolescents

  • One hour or more of moderate or vigorous aerobic physical activity a day, including vigorous intensity physical activity at least three days a week.
  • Children and adolescents should incorporate muscle-strengthening activities three days a week. 
  • Bone-strengthening activities, such as jumping rope, running and skipping, are recommended three days a week.


  • Adults gain substantial health benefits from two and one half hours a week of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous physical activity.
  • For more extensive health benefits, adults should increase their aerobic physical activity to five hours a week moderate-intensity or two and one half hours a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.
  • Adults should incorporate muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week.

Older adults

  • Older adults should follow the guidelines for other adults when it is within their physical capacity.
  • If a chronic condition prevents them from following the guidelines, they should be as active as abilities and conditions allow.
  • Those at risk of falling should also do exercises that maintain or improve balance.

Women during pregnancy

  • Healthy women should get at least two and one half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week during pregnancy and the time after delivery, preferably spread through the week.
  • Pregnant women who habitually engage in vigorous aerobic activity or who are highly active can continue during pregnancy and after delivery, provided they remain healthy and discuss with their health care provider how and when to adjust activity.

Adults with disabilities

  • Those who are able should get at least two and one half hours of moderate aerobic activity a week, or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week.
  • They should incorporate muscle-strengthening activities involving all major muscle groups two or more days a week.
  • When they are not able to meet the guidelines, they should engage in regular physical activity according to their abilities and should avoid inactivity.

People with chronic medical conditions

  • Adults with chronic conditions should get regular physical activity with the guidance of a health care provider.

For more information about the “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans,” visit

Help Us Eliminate Cancer

Every dollar counts. Please support lifesaving research today.