Physical activity guidelines should be more realistic, experts suggest

Fri, 23 Jan 2015
Experts suggest that physical activity guidelines should focus on gradual improvements to exercise levels. Rather than expecting the whole population to reach the targeted 150 minutes a week, inactive patients should be encouraged to increase their amount of exercise slightly, in order to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and obesity.

The two articles, published in The BMJ, point that out that 35.6 per cent of adults are inactive enough to increase their risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and some kinds of cancer. And the older people get, the less they exercise, with people aged between 70 and 79 spending 67 per cent of their time being inactive, compared to 55 per cent of people aged between 20 and 29.

The report suggests that the 150 minute target is unrealistic for many people, especially the elderly, - who are at greater risk of type 2 diabetes anyway - and recommends focusing on the promoting the benefits of more attainable, gradual levels of exercise.

A study of more than 250,000 adults in the US aged between 50 and 71 indicated that it only takes one hour of moderate physical activity every week to reduce the risk of all causes of death by between 15 and 23 per cent, suggesting that people do not need to do the recommended amount of exercise in order to gain health benefits, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

A similar study discovered that people who walked for 1-74 minutes a week decreased their risk of all causes of death by 19 per cent when compared to people who did not walk at all.

Philipe de Souto Barreto, of the University Hospital of Toulouse, says that exercise recommendations "should focus on people who are fully sedentary" with an aim of making "small incremental increases in physical activities in their daily life rather than reaching current recommendations."

Professor Phillip Sparling, of the Georgia Institute of Technology and lead author of the second article, said that insisting people aim for the 150 minute recommendation "may mean that the benefits of lesser amounts of exercise are overlooked".

Changing the message to one of gradual improvement and reduction of sedentary time, they argue, "may prove more realistic and pave the way to more intense exercise.

"We are not proposing that the 150 minute a week standard be abandoned. Rather, our purpose is to remind colleagues that a broad perspective to counselling is already embedded in the guidelines and that a whole data approach for older sedentary patients may help them move towards the recommended activity levels."

Spending too much time being sedentary was recently identified as increasing the risk of several health problems - including obesity and type 2 diabetes - regardless of exercise levels.
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