The new exercise guidelines: Any changes for you?

Lauren Elson, MD


It’s likely you already know that regular exercise helps prevent chronic disease, such as diabetes and heart problems, while improving your overall health, mood, and quality of life. It can sharpen mental function, boost concentration, and help you sleep. And the new exercise and physical activity guidelines issued by the federal government’s Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion show that the dose required to gain these benefits is not hard to achieve. The new guidelines are better tailored for age and ability, too.

What should your exercise goals be?

The amount of exercise and mix of activities recommended varies depending on age and ability, as described more fully below. It ranges from a high of three hours daily — for preschoolers, who tend to love activity — to 150 minutes a week.

Unfortunately, 80% of the population is not meeting the guidelines. Each year in the US, an estimated 10% of premature deaths and $117 billion in healthcare costs are associated with inadequate physical activity. A data analysis published in JAMA in April 2019 found that between 2007 and 2016, total daily sitting time for adolescents and adults increased by roughly an hour.

Besides saving money on healthcare, there are many personal benefits to staying active. The new guidelines highlight other new evidence-based findings related to physical activity and exercise.

What changed in the new exercise guidelines?

  • Overall, move more, sit less. Work toward reducing the amount of time you spend sitting every day. If you have a desk job, get up to walk around regularly, or try chair yoga or a few desk exercises.
  • All activity counts toward the recommended goals — not just 10-minute bouts of activity, as past guidelines recommended.
  • Younger people and older people may benefit in different ways from exercise. It facilitates normal growth and development for preschoolers through teens, strengthening bones and muscles and improving cardiovascular health. Older adults who participate in regular exercise have better balance, and lower risks of falling and injury, thus improving their ability to remain independent.

The new guidelines base your dose of physical activity on relative intensity: how much effort a given exercise takes compared with your capacity for exercise. A brisk walk counts as moderate physical activity (think: fast enough so that you can speak comfortably, but not sing). The speed of this walk will be much faster for someone who is in shape than for someone who is just starting to exercise or getting back to activity after a break. But no matter where the starting line is, most people can safely improve their fitness and health. Begin with lower amounts of exercise and slowly increase duration, intensity, and frequency.

For example, if you:

  • Have been bed-bound, start by walking two minutes every 10 to 15 minutes (during commercial breaks when watching TV or listening to the radio).
  • Typically walk for exercise, try adding an extra block to your regimen once a week.
  • Jog, try going at your regular pace for five minutes, then increasing it for one minute.

What stayed the same in the new exercise guidelines?

  • Exercise is safe for almost everyone — even people with chronic disease and disabilities.
  • Different types of exercise have complementary benefits:
    • Aerobic activity, like walking, running, or cycling, improves cardiovascular health. It involves movement of the large muscles of the body for sustained periods of time.
    • Muscle-strengthening activity, like resistance training with elastic bands or weight lifting, improves muscle strength, endurance, power, and mass.
    • Bone-strengthening activity, like running, playing basketball, resistance training, or jumping rope, improves bone health and strength.
    • Balance activity, like walking backwards, standing on one leg, yoga, and tai chi, can reduce fall risk.
    • Multicomponent physical activity, like running, dancing, or playing tennis includes at least two of the above types of activity.
  • Rating the intensity of activities is simple. During:
    • Light activity, you don’t feel like you’re exerting yourself.
    • Moderate activity, you can talk comfortably, but not sing.
    • Intense activity, you can say a few words, but not full sentences. Within the guidelines, one minute of intense activity is roughly equivalent to two minutes of moderate activity.

New exercise recommendations by age and ability

  • Preschool-age (3 through 5 years): physically active throughout the day with the goal of three hours of activity daily
  • Children and teens (6 through 17 years): at least 60 minutes daily of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity; include vigorous activity, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengthening activity three times a week
  • Adults: at least 150 to 300 minutes weekly of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 to 150 minutes weekly of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of both, plus muscle-strengthening activities on at least two days a week
  • Older adults: multicomponent physical activities that mix balance activities, aerobic activities, and strength training can help prevent falls and injuries; reduce overall sitting and replace it with light (or when possible, moderate) activity
  • Pregnant and postpartum women: at least 150 minutes weekly of moderate-intensity aerobic activity
  • Adults with chronic conditions or disabilities: follow adult guidelines as able, including both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities



  1. Anna

    With my kids we starts the day with morning yoga stretches Even them like the benefits of doing yoga in the morning before school.

  2. Lynda Jackson

    Where does Reformer Pilates fit into this equation?

  3. Kathy

    I think it is important to let people know, who have been bed ridden, that it is much better to start out on a bike or stationary bike rather than walking. Your knees lose strength extremely fast and walking can cause stress fractures. So if your knees hurt with new exercise, don’t give up. Start on a bike. 🙂

  4. Joehat

    I find 15 minutes nonstop swimming for 2 or 3 days a week to be the best health exercise …You add 3 days walking for 30 minutes …
    This is my best and I highly recommend it…

  5. John Nunn

    I’m 81 years old and stay active with jogging and gym work and pickleball. These new guidelines do not say anything useful to me. They’re too vague to be of value.

  6. Carol

    I found a lot of articles on balance just by searching with the word “balance” in this health topics forum. I’m a jogger getting older and I know that just aerobic exercise is not enough as I age. I’m probably going to check out those articles too!

  7. William C Nappi

    What exercise routine do you recommend for a 90 year old male?

  8. James DeLong

    I need rigorous physical activity to sleep well: 10,000 steps/day plus weights, yoga and swimming.

  9. Dale Matson

    I am age 74 and have been very active for the last 30 years. I have been involved in triathlons including Hawaii Ironman. My wife and I still back pack in the high Sierra Nevada. My biggest challenge seems to be balance. part of this may be declining eyesight but my flexibility is not what it once was. I don’t fall but trekking poles provide help on trails. I have considered hiring a coach at the fitness club for woking on balance.

    • lalit chaturvedi

      Try yoga – taadasana

    • Deborah

      69 and a few falls later my physio has me tie an exercise band around a heavy base with 2 feet hanging down on each side,knotted in the middle. Stand on one foot to balance and grasp each side about 4inches down from the middle knot. Pull on the right or left side to maintain your balance.It helps restore your proprioception and reestablish your ability to correct your body when you feel off balance. Over time hold the bands lower each day. Good luck.

    • rajesh menon

      You can greatly improve your balance by strengthening your core. Bosu ball workouts and planks help a lot in stabilizing your balance.
      Good Luck Matson.

    • Peter Rawlek

      Hello Dale-
      This is not intended to be medical advice without an examination which is advisable – I am a physician in Canada, a previous national team athlete – balance and balance issues are mosaic of interlocking aspects of physical health (numerology, strength and endurance of stabilizers, ROM at hip & engagement in recovery to protect from fall, peripheral nerve health, eyesight, proprioception, etc) that result in balance. Seeking qualified expert assessment is an essential first step, especially to continue to be active for anyone who notes instability… but looking at recovery from or preventing a fall if that happens, a contributor to a big crashing fall when one is suddenly falling is how does one recover. ROM at the hip and proper engagement of the gluts (your larger ass muscles) is a primary determinant, or last result to providing recovery once you are falling- three points:
      1- proper squaring and loading – recovery position should focus on glut engagement ( note 90% of older patients squat in a very weak position whee falling is imminent)
      2- “practice makes perfect” and poor habits mean limited possibility to recover. — so all people should practice proper squat technique- proper recovery 2 sets 5 – 10 reps daily
      3- resistance work with exercise expert guidance is a third piece.

      Dale you have invested in health— though you are an oddity — this is applicable to all North Americans — whatever the reason for falling (which SHOULD be sorted out) being able to recover and having established proper muscle recruitment patterns (loading massive gluts versus using weak knees in recovery) is imperative and commonly overlooked when looking for a cause —

    • Hank

      Try Tai chi. Will aid in balance by strengthening muscles that you thought you were ok with. Also will give peace of mind

    • Cheryl Fletcher

      try yoga or Pilalates. Pirates has done wonders for my flexibility- more than yoga did.

    • ka-Ollie

      Try T’ai Chi

  10. Al razzi

    All of you points are interesting and useful. One thing you failed to mention about for people who have some disabilities in walking and balancing. These people cannot just jump on the tread mill and jog for 30 minutes.
    For these people Yoga or Tai Chi are more appropriate, instead of cardio or muscle or bone building exercises. The beauty of Yoga is that it helps in becoming supple,energitic,vibrant build muscles and balance and also work on your internal organs which most of jogging and tennis failed to do except building your heart and lung capacity. Yoga by its breathing exercises will help your lungs and also clear your mind.

  11. Nancy Perkins

    Multi-component physical activity could include walking a young strong dog.

  12. Cecil R burnett

    25 minutes. Six days per week.

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