Experts: New guidelines could encourage more exercise

November 12, 2018

Dr. Stuart Zarich knows that for too many Americans, their exercise routine consists of pulling out a chair and lowering themselves into it.

So Zarich, Bridgeport Hospital’s chief of cardiology, supports anything that encourages people to be more active.

“Anything helps, that’s for sure,” he said.

That’s why he was optimistic about the recent update to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, announced Monday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The guidelines haven’t been updated since 2008 and, while it’s still recommended that most adults get 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week and that most children and adolescents get 60 minutes a week, the new standards feature several changes.

One of the most touted is that, while the previous guidelines stated that only 10-minute blocks of activity counted toward the overall weekly goals, the new ones have done away with that requirement.

“The new guidelines demonstrate that, based on the best science, everyone can dramatically improve their health just by moving — anytime, anywhere and by any means that gets you active,” said Dr. Brett P. Giroir, the United States assistant secretary for health in a news release.

Zarich concurred that letting Americans know that any extra movement — from taking the stairs instead of the elevators or parking a little farther away from the grocery store when they do errands — can be beneficial may persuade people to move more.

“I think this will at least encourage instead of discourage those who say they don’t like to exercise,” Zarich said.

Indeed, getting Americans to exercise is a challenge, according to Health and Human Services. The department reports that only 26 percent of men, 19 percent of women and 20 percent of adolescents meet the recommendations for physical activity.

American sluggishness has a variety of consequences: the government reports that nearly $117 billion dollars in annual healthcare costs and 10 percent of all premature mortality are attributable to lack of physical activity.

Zarich said he backs the idea that exercise and wellness are inseparable partners. Though he focuses mainly on the heart, he said exercise benefits nearly every area of health, from decreasing to lowering cancer and even improving brain function.

Indeed, another one of the changes to the physical activity guidelines is adding to the list of health conditions that can be alleviated by exercise.

The guidelines state that physical activity can, among other things, decrease pain for those with osteoarthritis, reduce disease progression for high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

The updated standards also include recommendations for young children. The previous guidelines only discussed the importance of exercise to children 6 and older. But the new guidelines also have standards for preschool children ages 3 to 5.

The document said children this age “should be physically active throughout the day to enhance growth and development,” and that “adult caregivers of preschool-aged children should encourage active play that includes a variety of activity types.”

The increased attention to children and exercise is important, because it could aid in combatting childhood obesity, said Dr. Steven Kunkes, cardiac specialist with Bridgeport Hospital’s Northeast Medical Group. “That’s really big,” Kunkes said.

He said the modified guidelines are valuable because they treat exercise almost like medication — though a larger, stronger dose might carry more benefits, a small dose can still be helpful.

Zarich echoed the idea that the guidelines could encourage more Americans to get active because they make the prospect less daunting.

“This is something that’s at least going to chip away at the problem,” he said.

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