By Kristine Dianne M. Marders, PTRP, MSHMS
Almost all fitness enthusiasts have a basic understanding of the health benefits of physical activity or exercise. What has to be clarified, however, is the amount and intensity of physical activity needed to improve health and decrease the occurrence of illnesses. Age-appropriate physical activities must also be identified, as not everyone can adapt to a structured weight program. Before we drive through the main point, we should be familiar with some basic concepts used in exercise and physical activity.
Aerobic exercise is any low-intensity activity that is repetitive, extended over a period of time. This increases muscular and cardiopulmonary endurance.
Intensity simply refers to how hard you perform an exercise. Exercises can be light, moderate, or vigorous. To know if you are performing a moderately or vigorously intense exercise, a scale of 0 to 10 can be used. Quiet sitting is marked as a 0, while the highest level of activity is a 10. A moderately intense activity is between 5 and 6, while a vigorously intense activity is 7 or 8.
Aerobic exercise on moderate intensity (5-6/10) would make a person breathe harder, with the heart beating faster, but would still allow the person to talk while performing the activity. Vigorous activity (7-8/10), on the other hand, will limit a person from saying more than just a few words while exercising.
Activities that increase muscle strength, also known as strength training, resistance training, or muscular strength and endurance exercise, trains major muscles groups such as those found on the legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms.
In order to provide guidance on the dose-response relationship between physical activity and health benefits, the World Health Organization (WHO) developed its Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health.
Age group: 5-17 years old
A child or adolescent can engage in physical activity in the form of games, sports, recreation, PE classes, or other planned exercises, even in the middle of daily activities with family or at school. They should have at least 60 minutes of daily moderate to vigorous physical activity. These should include vigorously intense aerobic activities for muscle and bone strengthening, at least three times a week
Examples of aerobic activities are brisk walking (moderate intensity) and running (vigorous intensity). Muscle strengthening activities can include gymnastics or push-ups, while bone strengthening can be done using jump ropes. The use of protective equipment such as helmets, shoulder pads, and knee pads in all types of activity that can cause injuries is highly encouraged.
Age group: 18-64 years old
For adults, regular physical activity can come in the form of leisure walking or biking, performing household chores, tedious work activities, sports, or any planned exercises.
The guideline recommended for adults aged 18-64 are as follows:
Adults aged 18-64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic physical activity or at least 75 minutes of vigorously intense aerobic physical activity throughout the week. A combination of moderate and vigorous physical activity for a similar duration could also suffice. Aerobic activity should be performed in sets of at least 10 minutes in duration.
For additional health benefits, adults can increase their moderately intense aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or to 150 minutes per week in the case of vigorously intensive aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of both. Muscle strengthening activities that train major muscles groups for at least two days a week are highly encouraged.
It's also possible to spread the weekly 150 minutes of phyiscal activity into shorter rounds, for example, to 30 minutes of moderately intense activity done five times a week. Adults are encouraged to incorporate regular physical activity into their daily routine. Risk of musculoskeletal injuries can be reduced by progressively increasing the intensity for inactive adults.
Age group: 65 years old and above
For older adults, who are the least physically active, it is important to develop a modicum of physical activity. Those with cardiovascular diseases and diabetes must consult a physician and take the necessary precautions before performing any of the recommended physical activities for those aged 65 and above.
The recommendations are as follows:
Adults aged 65 years and above should do at least 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic physical activity throughout the week or at least 75 minutes of vigorously intense aerobic physical activity per week. A combination of moderate and vigorous physical activity for a similar duration could also suffice. Aerobic activity should be performed in sets of at least 20 minutes in duration.
For additional health benefits, adults aged 65 years and above can increase their moderately intense aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or to 150 minutes per week in the case of vigorously intense aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both. At least two days a week, muscle strengthening activities that train major muscle groups are recommended.
Adults with poor mobility are encouraged to engage in regular physical activity for at least three days per week to maintain or improve balance and prevent falls.
Those belonging to this age group should only be physically active as much as their health conditions permit. In cases of deteriorating health, physical potency, and mobility, it is highly advised to refrain from performing the recommended levels and frequency of physical activity.
The guideline might have similarities on the recommendations from adults aged 18-65 but a different approach must be adopted. Physical activity in older adults does not require the repetition of high volume activities or engaging in vigorously intense activities.
- Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health (2010). World Health Organization (WHO). Geneva, Switzerland