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Exercise 3: US Department of Health & Human Services, resources for assessment & advice

Last week I wrote about the helpful GPPAQ exercise screening questionnaire in "Exercise 2: UK Department of Health, resources for assessment & advice".  This week I'd like to go "over the pond" to visit the excellent advice on exercise provided by the US government.  One of the most useful resources is the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) website publicising the 2008 "Physical activity guidelines for Americans".  There is a downloadable two page "At-a-glance: a fact sheet for professionals"as well as the 8.5Mb full 76 page guideline itselfThe full guideline is actually a pretty good read.  It isn't particularly technical and is aimed at general audiences.  Many people may however prefer just to read specific chapters that are of particular personal interest - click on online chapter by chapter to access this option.  

There also two very practical, very helpful downloads - the 28 page "Be active your way: booklet" for adults, and the 2 page "Be active your way: a fact sheet for adults"If I had access to only two handouts on exercise, these currently are my favourites.  The more general US HHS Healthfinder.gov website also provides a very useful Get active section based on the 2008 activity guidelines.

I like these American guidelines for a series of reasons:

  • The full guideline provides specific advice for several different groups of people - children & adolescents, adults, pregnant & postpartum women, older adults, people with disability, and people with chronic medical conditions. 
  • They move beyond the helpfully simple, but too black & white, take 30 minutes of exercise per day prescription (or twice this amount for kids).  The advice is on how much exercise to take per week, and this is more flexible and more realistic.
  • The guidelines make a useful distinction between moderate exercise (I can talk while I do it, but I can't sing) and vigorous exercise (I can only say a few words without stopping to catch my breath).  For adults, they suggest an initial target of 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week (or a mix of the two), but they also highlight that going beyond this initial target makes good health sense.   
  • The importance of strengthening exercises is also recognized.  People are encouraged - on at least two days per week - to strengthen the major muscle groups involving legs, hips, back, chest, stomach and shoulders.  Exercises for each muscle group should be repeated for 8 to 12 repetitions per session.

Good stuff.  More academic, and also useful, are the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) "position stand" reviews on a variety of topics including "Appropriate Physical Activity Intervention Strategies for Weight Loss and Prevention of Weight Regain for Adults", "Progression Models in Resistance Training for Healthy Adults" and "Exercise and Physical Activity for Older Adults".

Next week I'll post on "Exercise 4: pedometers can help us walk more"


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