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Content last updated on:
February 18, 2014

The Basics

Regular physical activity is good for your health.

Physical activity is anything that gets your body moving. Start at a comfortable level. Once you get the hang of it, add a little more activity each time you exercise. Then try exercising more often.

What kinds of activity should I do?
To get the health benefits of physical activity, do a combination of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.

  • Aerobic (“air-OH-bik”) activities make you breathe harder and cause your heart to beat faster. Walking fast is an example of aerobic activity.
  • Muscle-strengthening activities make your muscles stronger. Muscle-strengthening activities include lifting weights and using resistance bands.

What are the benefits of physical activity?
Physical activity increases your chances of living longer. Exercise can also help:

  • Control your blood pressure, blood sugar, and weight
  • Lower your “bad” cholesterol and raise your “good” cholesterol
  • Prevent heart disease, colorectal and breast cancer, and type 2 diabetes

And that’s not all. Being more active can:

  • Be fun
  • Help you look your best
  • Improve your sleep
  • Make your bones, muscles, and joints stronger
  • Lower your chances of becoming depressed
  • Reduce falls and arthritis pain
  • Help you feel better about yourself

How much aerobic activity do I need each week?

  • If you choose moderate activities, do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes a week. Moderate activities include things like walking fast, dancing, and raking leaves.
  • If you choose vigorous activities, do at least 1 hour and 15 minutes a week. Vigorous activities include things like jogging, jumping rope, swimming laps, or riding a bike on hills.

Do moderate or vigorous aerobic activity for at least 10 minutes at a time. You can also combine moderate and vigorous activities.

How do I know if my activity level is moderate or vigorous?
Your body is working at a moderate level when you can talk but not sing. Your body is working at a vigorous level when you can’t say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

Find out how to determine your activity level by measuring your heart rate.

How much muscle-strengthening activity do I need each week?
Do muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days a week. Muscle-strengthening activities include push-ups, sit-ups, and lifting weights.

Be sure to strengthen all major muscle groups including the legs, hips, back, chest, stomach, shoulders, and arms. Do these activities to the point where it’s hard for you to do more without help. If you can, do several sets of each exercise.

Is physical activity for everyone?
Yes! People of all ages and body types benefit from physical activity. Even if you feel out-of-shape or haven’t been active in a long time, you can find activities that will work for you.

Visit these Web sites to learn more about physical activity for:

If you have a disability, your doctor can help you choose the best activities for you. Use these tips to stay active with a disability.

What if I’m overweight?
If you are overweight or obese, getting active can help you lower your risk of:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Some types of cancer

Find out more about how you can be active at any size.

What if I have a health condition?
If you have a health condition, talk to a doctor about what types of activity are best for you. Physical activity can help you manage your type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure. Visit these Web sites to learn more:

Take Action!

Take Action!

First, think about your current physical activity level. How active are you now?

The tips in this section are for adults. Check out these resources for getting your kids more active:

I’m just getting started.
Start out slowly and add new physical activities little by little. After a few weeks or months, do them longer and more often. If you aren’t sure where to start, check out these examples of physical activity schedules.

For help getting motivated, sign up for the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA+) challenge.

Choose an activity that you enjoy.
Team up with a friend or join a class. Ask your family and friends to be active with you. Play games like tennis or basketball, or take a class in dance or martial arts.

Everyday activities can add up to an active lifestyle. You can:

  • Go for a brisk walk around the neighborhood
  • Ride a bicycle to work or just for fun
  • Play outdoor games with your children

Get more tips on getting active.

Have fun with your family.
If you have children, be a role model for making healthy choices. Encourage your whole family to get outside and get active – go for a hike or organize a family soccer game.

Use these tips to talk with a family member about getting more active.

Be realistic.
Remember, it’s not all or nothing. Even 10 minutes of activity is better than nothing! Try walking for 10 minutes a day a few days a week.

Strengthen your muscles.
Try some of these activities a few days a week:

  • Sit-ups
  • Heavy gardening (digging or shoveling)
  • Doing push-ups on the floor or against the wall
  • Lifting small weights (you can even use cans of food as weights)

Find a time that works for you. Try fitting in 10 minutes of activity before work or after dinner.

Learn how to do strength training.
Watch these videos for tips on how to do:

Check out the do’s and don’ts of training with weights.

Track your progress.
Use this score chart to measure your current fitness level [PDF - 80 KB]. Fill out the chart again after you get moving, and see your score go up over time.

Red Pedometer

A pedometer counts the number of steps you take.

Use a pedometer.
A pedometer clips onto your belt or waistband and counts the number of steps you take. Increase the number of steps you take each day until you are taking at least 10,000 steps a day.

Check out these tips for using a pedometer.

I’m doing a little, but I’m ready to get more active.
You may be feeling the benefits of getting active, such as sleeping better or getting toned. Here are 2 ways to add more activity to your life.

  • Be active longer each time.
    If you are walking 3 days a week for 30 minutes, try walking for an additional 10 minutes or more each day.
  • Be active more often.
    If you are riding your bike to work 2 days a week, try riding your bike to work 4 days a week.

Get to know your schedule.
Look at your schedule for the week. Find a few 30-minute time periods you can use for physical activity. Write them on your calendar. Think about new ways to build more active time into your busy week.

Keep track of your activities with this activity log [PDF - 123 KB].

I’m already physically active, and I want to keep it up.
If you are already active for 2 hours and 30 minutes each week, you can get even more health benefits by stepping up your routine.

Work your way up to 5 hours or more of activity each week. More activity can further lower your risk for:

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer

Add more vigorous activities.
In general, 15 minutes of vigorous activity provides the same benefits as 30 minutes of moderate activity. Try jogging for 15 minutes instead of walking for 30 minutes.

Mix it up.
Mix vigorous activities with moderate ones. Try joining a fitness group or gym class. Don’t forget to do muscle-strengthening activities 2 days a week.

Challenge yourself.
Check out the Presidential Champions program to get personalized activity logs, training tips, and more. See just how high you can raise your activity level!

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