How Small Amounts of Activity Can Reap Big Health Benefits

Mom and daughter hiking

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released its second edition of Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which provides evidence-based recommendations for adults and children ages 3 to 17.

The research provides more insight into the many ways that physical activity benefits the body and mind.

“We’ve known for quite some time that exercise is good for the heart, but the latest evidence shows that physical activity has many other benefits,” says George Farah, MD, a cardiologist with UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute.

While there are specific guidelines for various age groups and populations, here are three key points:

Just Move

Even small movements for short periods of time are beneficial. The guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, spread out over three or more days per week.

Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activities include walking briskly (at least 2.5 miles per hour); swimming, biking, tennis, active forms of yoga, dancing and yard work.

However, several smaller intervals of movement, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator/escalator or parking your car further away, add up and contribute to your overall movement goals.

New evidence also shows that physical activity has immediate health benefits. Exercise can reduce blood pressure and anxiety, and improve sleep quality and insulin sensitivity.

Variety is Good

The body benefits most when aerobic activities, such as brisk walking or fast dancing, are combined with muscle-strengthening activities (lifting weights, push-ups, etc.) For children, this could mean running or bike-riding and then climbing on playground equipment.

Sitting is Bad for Your Health

New evidence shows a strong correlation between sedentary behavior and increased risk of heart disease.

Have a desk job? Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to get up and walk around several times per hour if possible. Stand while taking conference calls. Check with your supervisor about purchasing a stand-up desk.

At home, try walking in place or doing other simple exercises while watching your favorite TV show. Better yet, walk on a treadmill while watching TV or reading – just check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

New Benefits

In addition to improving cognition and bone health, physical activity also may help prevent eight forms of cancer and reduce the risk of dementia, Dr. Farah says.

“Being physically active also helps people achieve or maintain a healthy weight, which reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes,” Dr. Farah says.

In addition, he says, “Physical activity is a modifiable cardiac risk factor – something you can achieve without the use of medicine.”

Read more about the updated physical activity guidelines, then talk with your doctor about an exercise program that’s right for you.

For an appointment with a UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute cardiologist near you, visit or call 1-866-UH4-CARE.

UH offers online self-scheduling for select UH physicians and specialties, including general cardiology. Or use our easy online tool to find a doctor and book an appointment at a time that is convenient for you.

Back to Top