Big Medicine turns over a new leaf for the New Year

Well, it’s officially a new year. And it looks like the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is taking the opportunity to acquire a fresh start.

They recently released new physical activity guidelines for all Americans ages three and up. And during the press conference, they unleashed this golden nugget: “Our overarching vision is to transform the present sick care system into a health-promoting system.”

Well, that’s certainly a change of tune! Though I venture to guess that the nearly $117 billion in annual healthcare costs (stemming from failure to meet previous guidelines) might have something to do with this…

Still, it’s about time they came around to our way of thinking. Even if the resulting guidelines state the obvious…

Common sense “breakthroughs” to live by

The biggest changes to these guidelines? Well, to put it bluntly, they’re dumbed down… way down.

Among the first recommendations: To move more, and sit less. Which, to their credit, is a much less intimidating way to steer people toward the 150- to 300-minute weekly activity goal.

Obviously, everyone can access benefits just by getting up and moving — anytime, anywhere, and by any means. This is advice that I’ve shared with my patients every day for the past 30 years.

So it’s interesting to me that the HHS sees this advice as some kind of major revelation, rather than simple common sense. (As if anyone behind the scenes there really has any.)

Can a single episode of physical activity lower anxiety and blood pressure — and boost sleep quality and insulin sensitivity? Of course it can! That’s the main reason I go straight to the gym after a long day at the office.

And the idea that exercise can help you manage chronic health conditions like arthritis, hypertension, diabetes, depression, even Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s is nothing new. Have these people even bothered to read any of the scientific evidence before now?

Then, of course, there’s its role in preventing fall-related injuries among the elderly. Plus there’s the research showing that regular exercise can slash your risk of at least eight different types of cancer — including breast, colon, bladder, endometrial, esophageal, kidney, stomach, and lung cancers!

I’ve covered all of this here over the years, of course. And while I have to laugh at the HHS acting as though they’re sharing news we don’t already know, it at least saves me the trouble of having to do it for them.

Disease prevention by the numbers

As for the other core recommendations offered by the HHS, I was pleased with a few aimed toward younger populations — the time in our lives when most eating and exercise habits (or lack thereof) are formed.

The remaining recommendations include the following:

  • Preschoolers aged 3 through 5 should be hitting a target of three hours of physical activity throughout the day. (This is a new recommendation — and I’m pleased to see someone finally addressing the fact that healthy behaviors need to start young!)
  • Kids aged 6 through 17 should be clocking an hour or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.
  • The recommendations for adults remain the same: At least 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity — with muscle-strengthening activities — at least twice a week.
  • Adults with chronic conditions or disabilities need to be hitting these goals too. And older adults should also incorporate balance training into their routines.
  • Pregnant and postpartum women need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly.

Should everyone be hitting these targets? Of course they should.

And if you’re just getting started in your quest to become more active, know that doing something is always better than doing nothing! And in this case, even a little can go a very long way.

In fact, multiple studies show that you’ll see some of the greatest returns in the way of disease prevention with low-intensity physical activity — like walking. And ultimately, even small amounts of physical activity can ward off death and disability.

The bottom line is that one in ten premature deaths in this country boils down to lack of exercise. And you can avoid being a statistic simply by standing up more. So what are you waiting for?

In the famous words of Nike, just do it.

P.S. – In the February 2014 issue of my monthly Logical Health Alternatives newsletter, (“The silent epidemic stealing your youth”), I discuss the different ways in which you can get off the couch and get yourself moving. If you’d like to read this article and gain access to my entire archive, click here to learn more, or sign up today!