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The UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) have published an updated version of their 2011 Physical Activity Guidelines, highlighting how regular physical activity can protect against chronic conditions and deliver cost savings for the healthcare system.

The guidelines are designed to aid healthcare professionals to provide individuals and communities with information on the type and amount of physical activity that they should undertake to improve their health.

According to the report, there is now greater evidence to support the health benefits of regular physical activity across all age groups. Amongst children and young people, regular exercise can lead to improved learning and attainment, better mental health and cardiovascular fitness, and a healthy weight status.

In adults, there is strong evidence to demonstrate the protective effect on physical activity on a range of chronic conditions including coronary heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes, mental health problems and social isolation.

Moreover, regular physical activity can deliver cost savings for the health and care system and has wider social benefits for individuals and communities, including increased productivity in the workplace.

As well as stressing the importance of regular activity across all age groups, the report presents, for the first time, additional guidance for disabled adults on being active.

Additionally, the report states that even small increases in physical activity can contribute to improved health and quality of life, and that benefits can still be achieved below the CMO’s physical activity thresholds.

The CMO’s report focuses on how strengthening activities can help to develop muscle strength and build healthy bones amongst children and how the same activities can help older adults delay the natural decline in muscle mass and bone density from the age of 50 and above. It also outlines the additional benefit of balance and flexibility exercises for older adults.

Importantly, the report looks at the links between sedentary behaviour and ill-health. According to growing research, sitting time is associated with all-cause and cardiovascular mortality, and cancer risk and survivorship in adults.

Building on an emerging evidence base for the health benefits of performing very vigorous intensity activity performed in short bouts interspersed with periods of rest or recovery (high intensity interval exercise, HIIT), this option has been incorporated into the recommendation for adults. According to the guidelines, HIIT training has clinically meaningful effects on fitness, body weight and insulin resistance, and can be as or more effective than moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.

For children and young people, the new guidelines recommend an average number of 60 daily minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity to be achieved across the week.

In addition, the CMOs underline that there is now no minimum amount of physical activity required to achieve some health benefits. Therefore, the previous requirement for a 10-minute bout of activity is no longer valid and is no longer included in the guidelines.

Welcoming the announcement of the new guidelines, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy Chair Alex MacKenzie said: “We are very pleased to see this guidance published, especially as there is new advice specifically tailored for groups of people who may come up against some barriers to being physically active but who would benefit considerably from doing it.

“The challenge now will be to find innovative and appealing ways for people to meet these guidelines in their daily life.

“Physiotherapists will continue to play a key role in doing this by advising and supporting people to achieve their health and fitness goals, whatever their situation or condition may be.”

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