Calorie Balance: Physical activity

Physical activity is the other side of the calorie balance equation and should be considered when addressing weight management. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a comprehensive set of physical activity recommendations for Americans ages 6 years and older. Weight management along with health outcomes, including premature (early) death, diseases (such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis), and risk factors for disease (such as high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol) were among the outcomes considered in developing the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Getting adequate amounts of physical activity conveys many health benefits independent of body weight.

Strong evidence supports that regular participation in physical activity also helps people maintain a healthy weight and prevent excess weight gain. Further, physi­cal activity, particularly when combined with reduced calorie intake, may aid weight loss and maintenance of weight loss. Decreasing time spent in sedentary behav­iors also is important as well. Strong evidence shows that more screen time, particularly television viewing, is associated with overweight and obesity in children, adolescents, and adults. Substituting active pursuits for sedentary time can help people manage their weight and provides other health benefits.

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans provides guidance to help Americans improve their health, including weight management, through appropriate physical activity. The amount of physical activity necessary to successfully maintain a healthy body weight depends on calorie intake and varies considerably among adults, includ­ing older adults. To achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, adults should do the equivalent40 of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. If necessary, adults should increase their weekly minutes of aerobic physical activity gradually over time and decrease calorie intake to a point where they can achieve calorie balance and a healthy weight. Some adults will need a higher level of physical activ­ity than others to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Some may need more than the equivalent of 300 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity.

For children and adolescents ages 6 years and older, 60 minutes or more of physical activity per day is rec­ommended. Although the Physical Activity Guidelines do not include a specific quantitative recommendation for children ages 2 to 5 years, young children should play actively several times each day. Children and adolescents are often active in short bursts of time rather than for sustained periods of time, and these short bursts can add up to meet physical activity needs. Physical activities for children and adolescents of all ages should be developmentally appropriate and enjoyable, and should offer variety.