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Published on September 03, 2019

When it comes to exercise, every little bit countsWhen it comes to exercise, every little bit counts

Federal exercise guidelines back up what cardiologist Elissa Thompson, MD, has long told her patients.

“You don’t have to be somebody who goes to the gym an hour a day to get a benefit,” she said. “If you get up and talk to a coworker instead of emailing that person, that’s something that counts. We know that the biggest benefits derived from exercise happen at the lowest levels of exertion. This means that if people who are doing the least amount of exercise right now stop sitting and move around a little bit more, they’re going to experience the greatest amount of benefit.”

The Department of Health and Human Services last year updated its Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

Previous guidelines said adults should get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week (a bit more than 20 minutes a day) and that activity should be in increments of at least 10 minutes. 

The new guidelines say that even short amounts of activity are worthwhile, whether it’s taking the dog for a quick walk, doing some stretches during a TV commercial break or choosing the stairs over the elevator at work.

The goal is still 150 minutes for adults, but there’s more flexibility about how you get there.

“It’s confirmed everything that we know about exercise and that we try to incorporate into our interactions with patients, which is that every little bit counts, and it counts for every person no matter what their age,” said Dr. Thompson.

Exercise counts for absolutely everyone, no matter their age or physical condition, she said.

“It’s hard to describe exercise without describing it as this amazing medicine. It really plays a profound role in the prevention of so many diseases that plague us,” she said.

Exercise is the most important thing we can do to improve our cardiovascular health, our blood pressure, our glucose metabolism, and our cholesterol, according to Dr. Thompson.

“It’s been shown that people who exercise more – and I don’t mean elite level athletes, just people who move around more – have decreased rates of certain types of cancers,” she said.

The Goals

The exercise goals in the guidelines vary with age.

  • Adults: 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (such as walking or gardening) or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (jogging or a fitness class) per week, plus muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice a week.
  • Children 6 to 17: 60 minutes of vigorous activity every day, plus muscle-strengthening exercises three times a week.
  • Children 3 to 5: physical activity throughout the day.

“There’s nothing but benefit to just getting up and moving,” said Dr. Thompson. “Any little bit counts and you're never too old to start. “