Physical Activity Pyramid

Being physically active is one of the most important things people of all ages can do to maintain and improve their health. According to the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, moving more and sitting less has many positive benefits. Even better, the benefits of participating in any amount of activity begin immediately after and accumulate over time.

Evidence supporting the benefits of regular physical activity is well established, yet nearly 80% of American adults are not meeting guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity. Gaining health benefits from physical activity depends on a personal effort to increase activity in ourselves, loved ones, and our communities. The newest addition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans can be a helpful resource to increase physical activity. It discusses the proven benefits of regular physical activity and outlines the amounts and types recommended for all ages and populations.

Importance of Physical Activity

Being physically active can help you live a longer, healthier, happier life. Adding regular, moderate-to-vigorous physical activity to your day can:

  • improve your overall health, fitness, and quality of life
  • reduce the risk of many adverse health outcomes and chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, hypertension, many types of cancer, depression, anxiety, and dementia
  • help you reach and maintain a healthy weight by burning calories*
  • help manage blood sugar and blood pressure
  • lower your risk for a heart attack
  • help you feel more confident
  • reduce stress, anxiety, and depression
  • improve your fitness level
  • increase muscle strength
  • reduce body fat
  • help build and maintain bones and joints
  • improve flexibility and posture
  • help prevent arthritis or relieve the pain from it
  • reduce the risk of falling among older adults

*Research shows that combining a reduced-calorie diet with exercise is the most effective way to lose weight.

What is Physical Activity?

Physical activity means moving your body to use energy. Good examples are: walking, dancing, playing soccer, briskly pushing a baby stroller, and even gardening. It does not have to be strenuous, but activity should be of at least moderate intensity to receive the most health benefits. The “talk test” is an easy way to measure relative intensity. Usually, if you are doing a moderate-intensity activity, you can talk but not sing.

Key Guidelines for Adults

  • Move more and sit less throughout the day. Some physical activity is better than none.
  • For the most health benefits, adults should make their choice of:
    • At least 150 minutes (2 hours 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity physical activity.
    • At least 75 minutes (1 hour 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
    • An equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
  • Aerobic activity should preferably be spread throughout the week.
  • Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of at least moderate intensity that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week.
Photo credit: – Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

Photo credit: – Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

Learn more about the Move Your Way initiative to help increase your physical activity at

One hundred fifty minutes per week of physical activity may seem challenging to reach, but breaking this amount into smaller chunks can make it more manageable. For example, you can reduce 150 minutes down to 30 minutes of activity five days per week. For health benefits, adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity most days, preferably every day. This is above and beyond regular daily activity unless your job includes lots of vigorous physical activity.

Thirty minutes per day of moderate-intensity physical activity provides many health benefits. However, even more significant health benefits can be gained through more vigorous exercise or by staying active for a longer time. Regardless of the activity you choose, you can do it all at once or divide it into multiple parts during the day.

For example, walk your dog for 10 minutes before and after work, and go for a 10-minute walk at lunchtime. That adds up to 30 minutes of moderate exercise for the day. If you do not have a dog to walk, then you could take a brisk 10-minute walk to and from the parking lot or bus stop before and after work.

Children and teenagers need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day or most days. Pregnant women should get 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, or all, days of the week unless they have medical complications. Like all adults, senior citizens benefit from physical activity, which helps reduce functional declines associated with aging.

Source: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition

Source: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition

Levels of Physical Activity: There are two basic levels of physical activity.

Moderate: This includes walking briskly (about 3½ miles per hour), hiking, gardening/yard work, dancing, golf (walking and carrying clubs), bicycling (less than 10 miles per hour), and weight training (a general light workout).

Vigorous: Examples are running/jogging (5 miles per hour), bicycling (more than 10 miles per hour), swimming (freestyle laps), aerobics, fast walking (4½ miles per hour), weight lifting (vigorous effort), competitive basketball, and heavy yard work, such as chopping wood.

If physical activity does not increase your heart rate, it is not intense enough to count towards the 30 or more minutes a day that you should get. Activities that do not increase your heart rate include walking at a casual pace, grocery shopping, and doing light household chores.

Before Beginning an Exercise Program: Most adults do not need a doctor’s checkup before exercising at a moderate level. Exceptions include people with heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, osteoporosis, and obesity. A high-fat diet, smoking, and a sedentary lifestyle are other risk factors. Men over 40 and women over 50 should see their doctor or health care provider before starting a vigorous physical activity program. Get advice on how often and how long to exercise.

Types of Physical Activities

These activities are very beneficial to your health.

Aerobic Activities: These speed up your heart rate and breathing while improving heart and lung fitness—examples: brisk walking, jogging, and swimming.

Muscle-strengthening: These help build and maintain bones and muscles by working them against gravity. Lifting weights, carrying a child, and walking are a few examples.

Balance and Flexibility: Dancing, gentle stretching, yoga, martial arts, and tai chi reduce the risk of injuries by improving physical stability and flexibility.

Ways to Get Moving

The more you enjoy exercise, the more likely you are to stick to it. Many activities that you enjoy can be worked into your daily routine, so you do not have to go to the gym or an aerobics class.

  • Always be prepared. Keep a pair of walking or running shoes and some comfortable clothes in the car and office.
  • Walk! Do it in your neighborhood, find a local trail, or go to the mall and walk around before you shop. Walk during your lunch break or running errands. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. Park in the farthest parking spot and walk to the office or store.
  • Make exercise a social event. Walk with your spouse, a family member, neighbor, or friend to make it more fun. Take group dancing lessons.
  • Incorporate exercise into your workday. Do simple stretching and calisthenics exercises at your desk. Jumping rope is a cheap exercise that can be done anywhere, even in a hotel room on a business trip.
  • Participate in a sport such as tennis, softball, basketball, or touch football. Play golf but push or carry your golf bag rather than ride in a golf cart. Jog or join an exercise class. Keep your activities interesting by trying something different on alternate days.
  • Do household chores for exercise. Vacuuming, mopping, and dusting can be quite a workout. Mow the lawn with a push mower, garden, rake leaves, or wash and wax your car.
  • Make exercise a family activity. Get outdoors and hike, ride bikes, skate, swim, go canoeing, sailing, snorkeling, or horseback riding together.

Physical Activities for Children

Regular physical activity in children and adolescents promotes health and fitness. It is important to provide young people opportunities and support to participate in physical activity that is appropriate for their age, enjoyable, and offers variety. Children and teenagers need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day or most days. Here are some ideas to get them moving:

  • dance
  • play tag
  • jump rope
  • ride a bicycle or tricycle
  • swim
  • roller skate or rollerblade
  • play actively during school recess
  • participate in physical ed. class at school
  • join an after-school or community physical activity program
  • be spontaneously active

Your Challenge

Although the benefits of physical activity have been proven, over half of U.S. adults do not get enough physical activity to provide health benefits. Are you active enough for a healthy life? It is essential to be active most days of the week and make physical activity a part of your daily routine. Do anything that gets you up and moving.

Want to manage your weight? Find your balance between the food you eat and your level of physical activity. You do not have to be a jock to be healthy, but you need to place regular activity high on your “to-do” list. Starting today, make one positive change. Then keep it up!

For more information, request: HGIC 4000, 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans; HGIC 4010, MyPyramid; HGIC 4011, MyPyramid for Kids; HGIC 4031, Physical Activity for Adults; HGIC 4032, Physical Activity for Children; HGIC 4151, Fluid Needs.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need? October 7, 2020.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Measuring Physical Activity Intensity. September 17, 2020.,not%20sing%20during%20the%20activity.&text=In%20general%2C%20if%20you’re%20doing%20vigorous%2Dintensity%20activity,without%20pausing%20for%20a%20breath.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical Activity Prevents Chronic Disease. May 14, 2020.,depression%20and%20anxiety%2C%20and%20dementia.
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2018). Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition.

Originally published 01/06

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at or 1-888-656-9988.

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