29 November 2018

The United States has published the new physical activity guidelines in the JAMA Journal (Journal of the American Medical Association). The main change as compared with the previous guideline from 2008: even a small amount of physical activity results in substantial health benefits. Together with American cardiologist Paul Thompson, Thijs Eijsvogels wrote the accompanying editorial commentary.

Sufficient physical activity improves the health of people both young and old. It strengthens the bones of small children from the age of three and improves the cognitive functions in children from the age of six. Regular sports and physical activities considerably reduce the risk of chronic diseases (such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia and types of cancer) in adults as well as the elderly. An active lifestyle improves quality of life and mental health and also reduces the risk of depression. If physical activity has so many benefits, why then is it so difficult to get people in Western society to actually do this kind of activity? Thijs Eijsvogels, physiologist at Radboud university medical center, continues to be surprised by this: “For example, about eighty percent of Americans don’t meet the physical activity guidelines for optimum health.”
Achievable guidelines
The new guidelines sound achievable and realistic: “An adult should perform 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity activity per week. Carrying out muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days a week is also recommended. In addition, the minimum number of physical activity minutes per session has been abolished (this was ten minutes) and also the minimum number of sessions per week. It is now clear that small amounts of physical activity have benefits too.”
Some of the health benefits of physical activity can also be noticed immediately. For example, blood pressure and the concentration of fat in the blood are reduced after sports activities, while sensitivity to insulin increases. It is therefore a misconception that you will have to train for weeks or even years before you will see any impact on your health.
Get moving
In the accompanying editorial commentary Thijs Eijsvogels emphasizes that everyone benefits from an active lifestyle. “You obtain the most health benefits if you change from an inactive lifestyle to doing a small amount of physical activity regularly. So stretch your legs if you sit for longer than thirty minutes, take the stairs at work, get on your bicycle to go to the supermarket or take a walk in your lunchbreak. All these short sessions of physical activity added together result in greater health benefits than you would expect.”
In their commentary Eijsvogels and Thompson call on doctors from now on to ask their patients questions on their physical activity pattern as standard. Eijsvogels: “A simple question like ‘How many minutes do you do sports and physical activities per week?’ provides important information on a patient’s activity pattern. Based on this, personalized advice can be given to do more physical activity and therefore improve health. Perhaps this is the cheapest and most efficient way towards a healthier life.”
* Paul D. Thompson, Thijs M. H. Eijsvogels - New Physical Activity Guidelines. A Call to Activity for Clinicians and Patients
* Physical Activity Guidelines for Health and Prosperity in the United States
* Video: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition
* Info Nederlandse richtlijn
Thijs Eijsvogels is member of theme Vascular damage.

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