The Department of Health and Human Services released the 2nd Edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans in November 2018. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Katrina Piercy, Ph.D., RD, ACSM-CEP, and lead for the new guidelines, to learn about what they include and get her take on how they could encourage more Americans to get moving. Here’s what she said.
What prompted the creation of the new guidelines?
We have a congressional mandate to put out the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years. With the Physical Activity Guidelines, we don't have a similar mandate so it was on the government to look and decide when we needed to update it. At the five-year mark, we looked at the science and realized not a whole lot had changed, so we did a mid-course report in 2013. That report focused on strategies that worked to help increase physical activity in youth.
We had an eye toward the 10-year mark and leading up to this project, we started realizing that there were a lot of areas we could touch more upon—young kids, sedentary behavior, older adults, brain health, more specific health outcomes, etc. For example, in 2008, we talked about two types of cancers that physical activity benefits ... now we have eight. So, we certainly have seen a lot of change.
What are the three main differences you see in these guidelines when you compare them to the ones released in 2008?
Now we have information for 3 to 5 year olds. This a population that we didn’t have information about before. We started the guidelines at age six, and so with 3 to 5 year olds, we have more science now to talk about the benefits of physical activity for preschoolers and recommendations for providers and parents to encourage and provide opportunities for kids that are this age to do active play and things that they enjoy.
The other big piece that we’ve gotten rid of is the 10-minute requirement. So in 2008, we were telling everybody that you need to get at least 10 minutes of physical activity at a time to count toward the 150 minute requirement, but we looked closer at the data and realized that 10 wasn’t necessarily a magic number and even doing small amounts of physical activity have tremendous health benefits.
That leads us to the last piece, which is that doing something is better than doing nothing—meaning to move more and sit less, which is the starting point of our adult key guidelines. Based on what we know about sedentary nature, just getting up and moving more helps people see huge health benefits. A lot of those benefits are immediate and of course we know more about the long-term benefits as well.