Fitness Guidelines for a Healthy Heart

The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association have released new guidelines for physical activity that recommend that healthy adults ages 18 to 65 exercise a minimum of five days per week in order to promote health and prevent disease.

The new guidelines were published in Med Sci Sports Exerc 2007; 39:142334.

Specifically, the guidelines recommend:

  • Moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, such as brisk walking, for 30 minutes five days per week, or vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, such as jogging, for 20 minutes three days per week.
  • Muscle strengthening activity, such as weight training, a minimum of two nonconsecutive days per week, which should include 8 to 10 exercises repeated 8 to 12 times.

The lead author of the new guidelines, William Haskell, PhD, professor of Medicine at Stanford University’s Prevention Research Center, says “Following the current recommendations will lead to an increase in cardiovascular and muscle fitness, help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, and assist in the prevention of chronic degenerative diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.”

A combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activities works just as well, say the guideline authors. For example, walking briskly two days and jogging two days per week. The authors also state that the 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity does not have to be completed all at once and can be broken down into increments of 10 minutes or more.

A big part of these new guidelines is the recognition that exercise must be planned. Regular exercise does not happen spontaneously. Walking to work is great, though, unfortunately, not feasible for most. Dean Ornish, MD, is known to have said “walk your dog every day, whether or not you have one.” Find some kind of movement you enjoy: belly dancing, Aikido, ball-room dancing, contact improv, roller-blading, yoga, hula hoops, getting to 10,000 daily steps on your pedometer. As long as it gets your heart rate up, and you’re having a good time, this is successful exercise.

The American College of Sports Medicine last published exercise guidelines in 1995. These updates are more exact about the types and duration of exercise. They are based on recent scientific findings about the relationship between physical activity and health. The authors point out that an increase above the recommended minimum amount of exercise may provide further health benefits.

A companion guide is also available for adults ages 65 and over and adults 50 to 64 with chronic medical conditions. These guidelines are similar but adds important detail about flexibility, balance and how to stick with a plan.

Currently only about 25% of the US population follows these guidelines, according to the CDC. Haskell states this percentage could increase to 50% over the next decade with the active support of the community agencies, medical personnel and, especially, employers.