Physical Activity


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People who are physically inactive are twice as likely as physically active people to develop heart disease.  Regular physical activity substantially reduces the risk of dying of coronary heart disease, the nation's leading cause of death, and decreases the risk for stroke, colon cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure. It also helps to control weight; contributes to healthy bones, muscles, and joints; reduces falls among older adults; helps to relieve the pain of arthritis; reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression; and is associated with fewer hospitalizations, physician visits, and medications.

Physical activity need not be strenuous to be beneficial.  30 minutes of brisk walking or other moderate intensity physical activity five or more days a week can make a big difference. Children need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity everyday or most days. It’s important to remember that you can start out slowly and work your way up to a higher level of activity.

The good news is that it's never too late to start an active lifestyle. No matter how old you are, how unfit you feel, or how long you've been inactive, research shows that starting a more active lifestyle now through regular, moderate-intensity activity can make you healthier and improve your quality of life. 

Tips for being more active

With a little creativity and planning, even the person with the busiest schedule can make room for physical activity.  Before or after work or meals is often a good time to cycle, walk, or play.  Think about your weekly or daily schedule, and look for and make opportunities to be more active. Physical activity can be done all at once, or divided into parts of no less than 10 minutes. Every little bit helps. Consider the following suggestions:

  • Walk, cycle, jog, skate, etc., to work, school, the store, or place of worship.
  • Park the car farther away from your destination.
  • Get on or off the bus several blocks away.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
  • Play with children or pets.  Everybody wins.  If you find it too difficult to be active after work, try it before work. 
  • Take fitness breaks – walking or doing desk exercises – instead of taking cigarette or coffee breaks.
  • Perform gardening or home repair activities.
  • Avoid labor-saving devices – turn off the self-propel option on your lawn mower or vacuum cleaner.
  • Use leg power – take small trips on foot to get your body moving.
  • Exercise while watching TV (for example, use hand weights, stationary bicycle/treadmill/stair climber, or stretch).
  • Dance to music.
  • Keep a pair of comfortable walking or running shoes in your car and office.  You'll be ready for activity wherever you go!
  • Make a Saturday morning walk a group habit.
  • Walk while doing errands.

 Tips for people who have been inactive for a while:

  • Use a sensible approach by starting out slowly.
  • Begin by choosing moderate-intensity activities you enjoy the most.  By choosing activities you enjoy, you'll be more likely to stick with them.
  • Gradually build up the time spent doing the activity by adding a few minutes every few days or so until you can comfortably perform a minimum recommended amount of activity (30 minutes per day).
  • As the minimum amount becomes easier, gradually increase either the length of time performing an activity or increase the intensity of the activity, or both.
  • Vary your activities, both for interest and to broaden the range of benefits.
  • Explore new physical activities.
  • Reward and acknowledge your efforts.
  • Be evaluated by a physician if:
    • a history of cardiovascular disease or other medical conditions exist
    • you are a man over 40 or a woman over 50 engaging in vigorous intensity physical activity

For additional information:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
     www.cdc.gov
Special recommendations for young people 
Special recommendations for older adults 

The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability, recommendations for people with disabilities or illness:
     www.ncpad.org

Youth Risk Behavior Study (YRBS):
The Obesity Epidemic and Philadelphia Students

Pennsylvania Advocates for Nutrition and Activity:
     www.panaonline.org

To learn more about the Department of Health Physical Activity Program click here.