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National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

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Be Physically Active

All adults should avoid inactivity. Some physical activity is better than none, and adults who participate in any amount of physical activity gain some health benefits.

What's Important to Know?

Facts

  • Less than half of U.S. adults get the amount of physical activity recommended in the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
  • Physical activity is safe for almost everyone, and the health benefits of physical activity far outweigh the risks. If you do not have a chronic condition (such as diabetes, heart disease, or arthritis) and you do not have symptoms (e.g., chest pain or pressure, dizziness, or joint pain) you do not need to talk to a health care provider before you become more active.
  • If you have a concern regarding a health condition, talk with your health care team about the types and amounts of activity that are best for you.
  • Studies show that regular physical activity decreases the risk for developing depression, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, and some kinds of cancer.
  • People of all ages and body types benefit from physical activity. Even if you are out of shape or have not been active in a long time, you can begin activity safely.
  • Physical activity is anything that gets the body moving. Start at a comfortable level. Once this begins to seem easy, add a little more activity each time. Then try doing it more often.

Types of Physical Activity

  • For important health benefits, you should do at least 2½ hours each week of moderate-intensity, or 1¼ hours a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both.
  • Your body is working at a moderate intensity when you can talk but not sing. Moderate-intensity physical activity includes things like walking fast, dancing, and raking leaves.
  • Your body is working at a vigorous intensity when you cannot say more than a few words without pausing for a breath. Vigorous-intensity physical activity includes things like jogging, jumping rope, swimming laps, or riding a bike uphill.
  • Aerobic activity should be in episodes of at least 10 minutes, and it is best to spread these out during the week.
  • Aerobic activity (also called endurance activity) is when you move your body's large muscles in a rhythmic manner for a sustained period of time and your heart beats faster than usual.
  • Muscle strengthening activity causes your body's muscles to work or hold against an applied force or weight. This includes resistance training and lifting weights. Resistance can be generated using elastic bands, handheld weights or body weight. The effects of muscle-strengthening activity are limited to the muscles doing the work.
  • Strengthening activities should be performed on at least 2 non-consecutive days each week and should target all the major muscle groups: legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms.
  • Stretching can produce the following benefits: increased flexibility, improved joint range of motion, improved circulation, and stress relief. How often should a person stretch? Generally, it is best to stretch when engaging in physical activity. For those who are not active on a regular basis, stretching at least three times per week to maintain flexibility is a good starting point.

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Want to Know More?

Definitions:

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
Designed to provide information and guidance on the types and amounts of physical activity that provide substantial health benefits for Americans aged 6 years and older. The main idea behind the Guidelines is that regular physical activity over months and years can produce long-term health benefits.
Moderate intensity
The body is working at a moderate intensity when one can talk but not sing. Moderate-intensity physical activity includes things like walking fast, dancing, and raking leaves.
Strengthening activity
Any activity that works a specific muscle or muscle group and results in increasing the strength of that muscle/muscle group. Examples of strengthening activities are lifting weights (e.g. chest presses, leg presses, biceps curls, triceps extensions) or using your body weight as the resistance (e.g. push-ups, sit-ups, squats, pull-ups). Vigorous intensity: The body is working at a vigorous intensity when one can't say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.
Vigorous-intensity physical activity
Includes things like jogging, jumping rope, swimming laps, or riding a bike uphill.
Aerobic activity (also called endurance activity)
When the body's large muscles move in a rhythmic manner for a sustained period of time and cause a person's heart to beat faster than usual. Aerobic activity should be in episodes of at least 10 minutes and it is best to spread it out during the week.

**For more detailed definitions please visit the links embedded in the terms found in the definitions section.

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Resources

  1. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
  2. HHS. Healthfinder: A Quick Guide to Reliable Information on Healthy Eating and Other Topics.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Physical Activity Web site.
  4. Office of Women's Health - How to Be Active for Health..
  5. The Community Guide - Promoting Physical Activity.
  6. Recommended Community Strategies and Measurements to Prevent Obesity in the United States Web site.
  7. Physical Activity Counseling I Statement.
  8. Behavioral Counseling in Primary Care to Promote a Healthy Diet Web site.

If you have questions or interest in making a healthy living change, please see your primary care team at the VA facility in which you receive health care.