Eat less, eat better and move more. That’s the quick summary of the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005”*, released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The guidelines, available at the Healthier US Gov web site (www.healthierus.gov), have notably and for the first time, added recommendations for “achieving adequate exercise”. These guidelines precede the anticipated release in coming months of a new food guide which could take on a somewhat different shape from the familiar pyramid that has been increasingly ignored since its creation 12 years ago.
According to Health and Human Services Secretary, Tommy Thomson, the new guidelines recommend that “If you want to look better, if you want to feel better, you lower your calorie intake, you lower your fat, your carbs, you eat more fruits and vegetables and more whole grains, and you exercise — and that’s as simple as it can be.” Leaving the commentary on the dietary intake to the nutritionists, it’s primarily the inclusion of 30 to 90 minutes of exercise most days of the week that has the fitness industry (and the media) all a buzz about the new recommendations.
Never before has the number “90” been included in any exercise guidelines. Previously, the recommendation was a mere 30 minutes of cardio-vascular exercise 3 days per week to maintain a heart healthy lifestyle, adding more time and days if weight loss was the goal, and strength training for all major muscle groups 2 times per week. In an attempt to encourage sedentary people to achieve even this minimal amount, industry organizations suggested even smaller bouts of activity -10 minutes 3 times a day to accumulate the 30 minutes. It’s all been in hopes of convincing people to move more, offering simple solutions and advice to take the stairs instead of elevators, and to find the furthest parking space in the lot… and yet 65% of Americans still weigh too much and only one third manage to accumulate 30 minutes of physical activity a day.
It is somewhat feared that this reported recommendation of “30 to 90 minutes most days of the week” may cause many to completely throw in the towel with the thought of even more time “required” for exercise. By and large, the biggest excuse for not exercising used by most sedentary adults is lack of time. But according to John Robinson, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland and co-author of “Time for Life: The Surprising Way Americans Use Their Time”, people watch TV an average of 15 to 20 hours a week, so there is “room to carve out more time to be active.”
It’s just a matter of establishing priorities, committing to a more active lifestyle and making the necessary behavioral changes. But it’s also necessary to review the guidelines’ key recommendations for physical activity and try to understand what they mean by “30-90 minutes most days of the week”. So here they are:
- To reduce the risk of chronic disease in adulthood, engage in a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, above usual activity, at work or home, most days of the week. Most people can gain greater health benefits with more vigorous intensity and increased duration.
- For weight management and prevention of gradual weight gain in adulthood, engage in approximately 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity activity on most days while not exceeding caloric intake requirements.
- To sustain weight loss in adulthood, engage in 60 to 90 minutes of daily moderate intensity physical activity while not exceeding caloric intake requirements.
That’s what the report outlines, with the last one including the recommendation for “some people” to consult with a healthcare provider prior to participating in this “level of activity”. And of course, the final recommendation was to include cardiovascular conditioning, flexibility, and strength or resistance exercise. Admittedly, there’s not much in terms of specifics with the types of exercise or activity, and the wording is a bit confusing, but at least the official Guidelines finally recognize exercise’s importance in health.
In researching this topic, it’s easy to find quite a few articles and commentaries with a variety of interpretations on these new recommendations. In reading the above, it’s noticeable that the last one omits “vigorous”, which seems to suggest that if you choose moderate intensity, you need to go longer. But the inclusion of the suggestion to “consult your healthcare provider” at “this level” makes you wonder if the omission was just an oversight. Sometimes it seems that the more you read, the less it is clear.
10,000 Steps Per Day
To clarify, you should understand that it doesn’t all have to be traditional exercise activity. Lots of things count, from playing tag with your kids to doing yard work or housework. If you are not sure if you are moving enough, try wearing a pedometer to measure your total steps taken in a day. Low activity people tend to average about 3,000 per day. Start by making gradual changes. Set an easily attainable goal of increasing your steps by 2,000 more per day, and if weight loss is your goal, reduce your caloric intake by 100 calories. Over time, work your way up to 10,000 steps per day.
That sounds like a lot of steps, but 64 year-old Kent Kemmerer from Cleveland Ohio, logged 6,650 steps on his pedometer taking a one hour step class. Some pedometers, such as the Omron HJ-105, will also calculate calories burned and after 10 minutes of continuous movement, it calculates “aerobic steps”. Even so, had Kent’s pedometer had this feature, it may not have been completely accurate because such instruments are not quite able to calculate vertical lift or intensity of effort. A one hour step class, which meets well over half the daily goal of 10,000 steps, will burn more calories than actually measured.
If you do choose to use a pedometer to help motivate your activity level, keep in mind that you do burn more calories in less time with “vigorous” effort. Also remember that most means of measurements and guidelines are primarily intended to motivate and should not always be taken as “absolutes”.
So here’s the bottom line: move more, eat less, and I’m sure the nutritionists will agree, make nutrient-dense food choices. And if you can only carve out 30 minutes of physical activity a day, it’s far better than watching TV.
Because more than one-third of children and more than two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese, the 7th edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans (released in 2010) places stronger emphasis on reducing calorie consumption and increasing physical activity. Click here for the full release of the 2010 Guidelines on PDF