Physical Activity Benefits, Consequences, and Recommendations

Physical activity through the lifespan is critically important to your health and well-being. Physical activity can have numerous benefits including weight control, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced risk for diabetes and metabolic syndrome, reduced risk of certain cancers, increased strength of bones and muscles, improved mental health and mood, improved ability to perform Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), and an increased chance of living longer.1 Physical activity can also reduce “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins; LDLs), improve the “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins; HDLs), and lower your blood pressure.2 In diabetic individuals physical activity can have positive effects by improving the body’s ability to use insulin to control glucose levels in the blood.2

men and women aerobic exercise_freestockphotos dot biz

Despite all the benefits of physical activity, less than 33% of Americans meet the physical activity guidelines set by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and the American Heart Association (AHA).2 Some people may believe that there is no harm in not being physically active, they just don’t receive the benefits of physical activity.  Rather, there is actually a negative association between health and being physically inactive. Physically inactive individuals have increased risk for coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, certain types of cancers, and other health problems.3 The World Health Organization has identified physical inactivity as the fourth leading underlying cause of mortality.4

So how much physical activity should you be getting? The American College of Sports Medicine recommendations for adults are below.5

  • Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity CARDIORESPIRATORY EXERCISE per week.
    • Exercise recommendations can be fulfilled by doing 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on 5 days per week or 20-60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise on 3 days per week.
      • Moderate-Intensity Exercise– Heart rate should be elevated but you should still be able to hold a conversation. 11-14 on RPE scale (see below).
        • Examples include walking at a brisk pace, riding a bike slower than 10 mph, and water aerobics.
      • Vigorous-Intensity Exercise– Heart rate should be elevated considerably, breathing is harder. Unable to hold a conversation. Above 15 on RPE scale (see below).
        • Examples include running, riding a bike faster than 10mph, race walking, aerobic dancing, and organized sport (tennis, soccer, basketball, etc).
      • Exercise duration can be completed in one continuous session or can be broken down into shorter sessions of 10 minutes or more.
  • Adults should perform RESISTANCE EXERCISE targeting each major muscle group 2-3 days per week on non-consecutive days.
    • Strength work should include a variety of exercises and equipment
    • Strength work includes repetitions and sets
      • Repetitions (Reps)- the number of times the motion is repeated in 1 set (Doing 8 bicep curls in a row would be 8 reps).
        • Reps recommendations:
          • 8-12 reps to improve strength and power
          • 15-20 reps to improve muscular endurance
          • 10-15 reps is a good place to start
        • Sets– the number of times an exercise is completed over the duration of the exercise session. Sets should not be performed in a row, leave 1-2 minutes between each set. (Doing 1 set of 8 reps of bicep curl, performing a different exercise, then completing the 2nd set of 8 reps of bicep curl).
          • Sets recommendation: 2-4 Sets is the ideal quantity to improve strength and power
        • Strength work should include weight or resistance that is heavy enough that you are tired or fatigued by the last 1 or 2 repetitions in a set.
  • Adults should perform FLEXIBILITY EXERCISE 2-3 days each week
    • Stretching exercises function to improve and maintain range of motion
    • Each stretch should be held for 10-30 seconds
    • Each stretch should be repeated 2-4 times
    • Hold the stretch to the point of slight discomfort, not pain
    • Stretching should only be completed after the muscles are warm. Perform a warm-up exercise such as walking and arm circles prior to flexibility exercises.
  • Adults should perform NEUROMOTOR EXERCISE 2-3 days each week, 20-30 minutes per session.
    • Also known as functional fitness training
    • Neuromotor exercises include balance training, agility, coordination, and gait training.
    • Neuromotor exercises function to improve physical function and prevent falls in older adults

Borg's RPE Chart
Important Note:
Prior to beginning any exercise routine it is important to consult with your doctor. If you are just beginning an exercise routine start with less than the recommended amount and work you’re your way up gradually over time. Before doing any exercise session it is important to include a warm-up. After completing any exercise session it is important to do a cool-down. For questions about physical activity and/or exercise please contact your Family Living Agent.


  4. World Health Organization.Global Health Risks. 2009. (cited 15 July 2015) (accessed 15 July 2015)
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