Activity pyramid offers guideline to exercise

Tuesday, March 3, 2009 | 5:25 p.m. CST; updated 9:58 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 17, 2009

COLUMBIA — How much exercise does it take to lower the risk of early death, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain kinds of cancer, osteoporosis or stroke? What about to improve mental health, cognitive function, prevent injuries or just maintain a healthy weight?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services  released new activity guidelines and research in late 2008 that answer those questions, and it may mean less time at the gym than you think.


Lifestyle Activity

•Execute as often as possible

•Pick an activity that you like and that fits your lifestyle

•Remember, some physical activity is better than none

Aerobic Activity

•During moderate activity you can talk but you can't sing

•During vigorous activity you can only say a few words before you have to stop and catch your breath

•You can combine moderate and vigorous aerobic activity when completing the 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity to accommodate your time schedule

Strength and Flexibility

•Remember to include all major muscle groups in strength training

•Perform eight to twelve repetitions per set for one to two sets

•Perform flexibility activities at least twice a week for at least ten minutes at a time


•Limit the amount of time you spend inactive as much as possible

•Inactivity counts as any time you spend at rest beyond 60 minutes

•Be careful about accumulating too much "screen time" at televisions, computers, video games, etc.

Related Media

The 2008 activity guidelines are the first that the federal government has issued.  In 1995, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine published recommendations stating that adults should exercise at least 30 minutes every day at a moderate level. 

The guidelines are the first time the science behind exercise guidelines and the subsequent benefits have been revisited in more than 10 years.

Steve Ball, MU associate professor of exercise physiology and state fitness specialist with MU Extension, said the guidelines "give people more choice on the frequency and intensity of their physical activity."

To streamline the new information, Ball helped develop a visual aid, published by MU Extension, that represents the guidelines for adults from age 18 to 64.

Lifestyle activities such as walking or performing household chores make up the base of MyActivity Pyramid, which then moves into aerobic activity and onto stretching and weight-lifting.

Ball and Robin Gammon, MU Extension associate and registered dietitian, collaborated in creating the pyramid.

Previous activity pyramids were based on older food guide pyramids and nutritional recommendations. In 2005, the USDA developed MyPyramid, a food guide pyramid based on nutritional guidelines recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

"With the development of the new 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines, it was obvious that a new graphic modeled after the USDA MyPyramid and based on the new guidelines for adults was needed," Ball said.

Rather than 30 minutes every day, the federal standards and MyActivity Pyramid recommend 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity. The new research indicates daily exercise does not have to be completed in one setting; the times can be accumulated at one's leisure as long as the activity is done in increments of at least 10 minutes.

The difference between moderate and vigorous activity can be measured with the "talk test" suggested by Ball.  During moderate activity a person should be able to carry on a conversation comfortably but not be able to sing, he said.  During vigorous activity, a person should not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath. The federal guidelines and MyActivity pyramid also stress the importance of daily "lifestyle activity."

"This wouldn't necessarily be exercise, but some things in your life where you can get some activity, chores and things like that," Ball said. "You can get significant health benefits just from doing that. Going from completely sedentary to doing anything is going to give you the most bang for your buck."

The MyActivity Pyramid and federal guidelines go hand-in-hand.  However, they are for basic health benefits and not weight loss.

"So many people are inactive right now. This is really just a way to help get them started and let them know how much physical activity they should be doing during the week," Gammon said in a news release.

MU Extension published the MyActivity Pyramid in an effort to help reach Missourians and encourage them to become more physically active.  It's a simple way to spread the message, Ball said.

"Sixty-six percent of Americans are either overweight or obese," Gammon said. "We all know it's a problem, but some of us just don't know where to start.  Printing off the MyActivity Pyramid and posting it at your office or putting it on your refrigerator to remind you and others to go out and be active can be a great start." 

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