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Committee Led by TC's Garber Issues New Exercise Guidelines

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Published: 6/30/2011

New recommendations for aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility, for the first time include suggestions to minimize sedentary activity.

Whether you’re a gym rat or a couch potato, you’ll find something that speaks to you in the new exercise guidelines released by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) in late June. A committee led by Carol Ewing Garber, an ACSM Fellow and Associate Professor of Movement Sciences at Teachers College, Columbia University, published the new recommendations for the optimum amount and type of exercise necessary to maintain good health. The bottom line, Garber says, is that even a little exercise is better than nothing.

The report “definitively answer[s] the age-old question of how much exercise is actually enough,” the ACSM said in a news release. For the first time, the ACSM guidelines included the suggestion to minimize inactivity.

“It is no longer enough to consider whether an individual engages in adequate amounts of weekly exercise,” said Garber. “We also need to determine how much time a person spends in sedentary pursuits, like watching television or working on a computer. Health-and-fitness professionals must be concerned with these activities as well.”

The position paper, titled "Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise," is the first issued by the ACSM since 1998, and it incorporates guidelines issued in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The new report “reflects current scientific evidence on physical activity and includes recommendations on aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility,” the ACSM said in a statement.

ACSM’s overall recommendations call for most adults to engage in at least 150 minutes – 30 minutes for five out of seven days – of moderate-intensity exercise each week. “The scientific evidence we reviewed is indisputable,” said Garber. “When it comes to exercise, the benefits far outweigh the risks for most people. A program of regular exercise – beyond activities of daily living – is essential for most adults.”

The basic recommendations are categorized by cardio-respiratory, resistance, flexibility and neuro-motor exercise – such as yoga and tai chi – to improve balance, agility, coordination and gait.  Adults can select among these types of exercise to develop an exercise program that fits their individual needs – and they will enjoy.

In addition to 150 minutes per week of at least moderate exercise for optimum heart and lung health, adults should train each major muscle group two or three days each week using a variety of exercises and equipment, the ACSM wrote.

Flexibility exercises, such as muscle stretches, should be done when muscles are warm, at least two or three days each week to improve range of motion. Neuromotor exercise (sometimes called “functional fitness training”) is recommended for two or three days per week. These exercises should involve motor skills (balance, agility, coordination and gait), and include yoga and tai chi.

“But,” said Garber, “it is recognized that not everyone can achieve these goals for exercise, so it is important for people understand that even a small amount of exercise goes a long way to improve health.” 

The purpose of the position paper is to offer health-and-fitness professionals scientific, evidence-based recommendations that help them customize exercise prescriptions for healthy adults. It was published in the July 2011 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official journal of ACSM. To access the full report, visit http://www.acsm-msse.org/.

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