A New View of Physical Activity

A new U.S. government report brings together what has been learned about physical activity and health from decades of research. Among its major findings:

First, before starting any exercise routine, consult with your doctor for any precautions or limitations.

• People who are usually inactive can improve their health and well-being by becoming even moderately active on a regular basis.

• Physical activity need not be strenuous to achieve health benefits.

• Greater health benefits can be achieved by increasing the amount (duration, frequency, or intensity) of physical activity.

• Reduces the risk of dying prematurely.

• Reduces the risk of dying from heart disease.

• Reduces the risk of developing diabetes.

• Reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure.

• Helps reduce blood pressure in people who already have high blood pressure.

• Reduces the risk of developing colon cancer.

• Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety.

• Helps control weight.

• Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints.

• Helps older adults become stronger and better able to move about without falling.

• Promotes psychological well-being.

A Major Public Heath Concern:

Given the numerous health benefits of physical activity, the hazards of being inactive are clear. Physical inactivity is a serious, nationwide problem. Its scope poses a public health challenge for reducing the national burden of unnecessary illness and premature death.

What is a Moderate Amount of Physical Activity:

A moderate amount of physical activity can be achieved in a variety of ways. People can select activities that they enjoy and that fit into their daily lives. Because amount of activity is a function of duration, intensity, and frequency, the same amount of activity can be obtained in longer sessions of moderately intense activities (such as brisk walking) as in shorter sessions of more strenuous activities (such as running): more vigorous, less time.

Precautions for A Healthy Start:

To avoid soreness and injury, individuals contemplating an increase in physical activity should start out slowly and gradually build up to the desired amount to give the body time to adjust. People with chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, or obesity, or who are at high risk for these problems should first consult a physician before beginning a new program of physical activity. Also, men over age 40 and women over age 50 who plan to begin a new vigorous physical activity program should consult a physician first to be sure they do not have heart disease or other health problems.

Status of the Nation - A Need for Change:


• More than 60 percent of adults do not achieve the recommended amount of regular physical activity. In fact, 25 percent of all adults are not active at all.

• Inactivity increases with age and is more common among women than men and among those with lower income and less education than among those with higher income or education

Adolescents and Young Adults

• People aged 12-21 are not vigorously active on a regular basis.

• Physical activity declines dramatically with age during adolescence.

• Female adolescents are much less physically active than male adolescents.

High School Students

In high school, enrollment in daily physical education classes dropped from 42 percent in 1991 to 25 percent in 1995. Only 19 percent of all high school students are physically active for 20 minutes or more in physical education classes every day during the school week.


Regular physical activity burns calories and preserves lean muscle mass. It is a key component of any weight loss effort and is important for controlling weight.

People with High Blood Pressure

People Feeling Anxious, Depressed, or Moody

Regular physical activity improves mood, helps relieve depression, and increases feelings of well-being.

People with Arthritis

Regular physical activity can help control joint swelling and pain. Physical activity of the type and amount recommended for health has not been shown to cause arthritis.

People with Disabilities

Regular physical activity can help people with chronic, disabling conditions improve their stamina and muscle strength and can improve psychological well-being and quality of life by increasing the ability to perform activities of daily life.

For More Information:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity, MS K-46
4770 Buford Highway, NE
Atlanta, Georgia 30341-3724
1-888-CDC-4NRG or 1-888-232-4674 (Toll Free)

The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
Box SG
Suite 250
701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004