In November 2008, The U.S. Department of Health And Human Services (DHHS) issued a landmark recommendation for exercise and health titled The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Yet surprisingly, most people this correspondent communicates with do not know of it. The report makes some very strong recommendations regarding the need for exercise. Interested readers can obtain the original 2008 Physical Activities Guidelines ebook, an audio summary of these findings, and other relevant articles using links provided in this review.
In a nutshell, it recommends that adults exercise 45 minutes every day and do muscle strengthening activities involving all muscle groups at least 2 times a week. It recommends that children exercise for at least 1 hour every day. The health benefits that they report are both numerous and extensive. Click here to listen to the National Institutes of Health’s Joe Balintfy’s summary.
The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is the first-ever comprehensive recommendations on exercise by the federal government. It is pre-dated by the Surgeon General’s Report On Physical Activity And Health issued in 1996, which states, “Underpinning such recommendations is a growing understanding of how physical activity affects physiologic function. The body responds to physical activity in ways that have important positive effects on musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, and endocrine systems. These changes are consistent with a number of health benefits, including a reduced risk of premature mortality and reduced risks of coronary heart disease, hypertension, colon cancer, and diabetes mellitus. Regular participation in physical activity also appears to reduce depression and anxiety, improve mood, and enhance ability to perform daily tasks throughout the life span.” Chapter 4 of the Surgeon General’s report presents a concise explanation of the effects of exercise on health and disease as of that time.
The 2008 Guidelines go on to make clear the health advantages of adequate exercise as well as recommendations on the type and frequency of exercise for people of different ages. Its intended to serve policy makers, health care professionals, educators, and the general public in moving America toward a more active lifestyle. The findings are possibly best summarized by this from the Secretary’s of Health and Human Services opening letter, “We know that sedentary behavior contributes to a host of chronic diseases, and regular physical activity is an important component of an overall healthy lifestyle.” And from the Guidelines summary, “All Americans should avoid inactivity. Some physical activity is better than none, and adults who participate in any amount of physical activity gain some health benefits.”
Returning to the 2008 guidelines, this correspondent was hopeful that the report would expound on the Surgeon General’s “growing understanding” of the physiological mechanisms that yield the many health benefits that accrue from regular exercise, but the recommendation is completely devoid of such information. Instead, it focuses almost exclusively on statistical outcomes that justify the exercise recommendations, which of course is necessary.
The development of the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines was an outcome of a 2006 initiative by the DHHS to determine if there was sufficient evidence to create a such a comprehensive set of guidelines in the first place. It culminated in an October 2006 workshop of the Boards of Food and Nutrition, and Population Health and Public Health Practice, both of the Institute of Medicine, titled “Adequacy of Evidence for Physical Activity Guidelines”.
The goal of the workshop was to conduct a review of all relevant evidence relating to physical activity and the general population where (to be consistent with the FDA) the 5 areas of evidence are: efficacy, effectiveness, dose, potential adverse events, and “mechanisms of action,” recognizing that there may be more than one mechanism relating to a single health benefit. Yet in this document there are only 4 instances of the use of the term “mechanisms of action” with no supporting discussion.
In summary, the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines present strong evidence that exercise is critical to health and well-being, and it presents equally strong recommendations for every American to engage in physical activity. It offers clear advice on what the health benefits of exercise are. It also offers recommendations on what types of exercise we might engage in to realize these benefits. But alas, in the 14 years since the Surgeon General’s report, there seems to be little knowledge either gained or published explaining “how” or “why” exercise improves health and mitigates disease.
Stephen Elliott is the principal author of The New Science of Breath and Coherent Breathing – The Definitive Method and the primary inventor of Valsalva Wave Pro, an instrument that allows observation and training of the arterial/venous blood wave that occurs in the circulatory system when breathing “coherently”.
Stephen is President of COHERENCE L.L.C. in Allen, Texas