You can't miss the figure climbing the steps of the MyPyramid symbol. This is a new addition to the food guide pyramid, and the reason for it is clear. Regular physical activity is essential to weight control and good physical and mental health. The government has put physical activity on a par with adequate nutrient intake and calorie control for achieving a healthy lifestyle as well as short- and long-term weight loss. Cutting calories alone just doesn't cut it anymore.

What the Guidelines Recommend

For the first time, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans spell out how much physical activity you need. They recommend:

  • At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, above your usual activity, on most days of the week to reduce the risk of chronic disease in adulthood. Greater health benefits, say the Guidelines, can be reaped with a more intense program or one that is of longer duration.
  • About 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity most days of the week to help manage body weight and prevent gradual, unhealthy body-weight gain in adulthood.
  • At least 60 to 90 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity daily to sustain weight loss in adulthood.

Don't Panic!If your primary physical activity right now is walking to the refrigerator, you may be in a bit of a panic after reading the recommendations. But before you dismiss them as impossible standards, there are a few things you should know:

  1. You can divide up the time any way you want throughout the day. It's the accumulated total that's important. Three to six 10-minute bouts over the course of a day will do the trick, according to the Guidelines.
  2. You can start with small steps geared toward your weight and fitness level. Adding physical activity to your day can be a gradual process.
  3. You can always do a little more than you are now. If walking around your living room twice is more than the usual amount of activity you do, then start with that. Soon you might be able to take a lap around the yard or go half a block down the street.
  4. You can build activity into your day in simple ways that don't take up a lot of extra time.
  5. You can count much of the movement you do in a day as physical activity. Household chores, yard work, walking to the bus stop or walking the dog, carrying groceries, and grocery shopping all burn calories.

Controlling the Calorie BurnWhether you participate in a structured physical activity or just try to add extra movement to your day, the number of calories you burn is determined by several factors. You have control over all of them:

Your Weight - The more you weigh, the more calories it takes to move your body. That means someone who weighs 300 pounds will burn more calories walking for 10 minutes than someone who weighs 150 pounds. That's not a good reason, however, to hang on to extra pounds!
Getting Started

It's never too late to get started being physically active or to increase the amount and intensity of the activity you do. Anyone, from small children to nonagenarians, can reap the benefits of physical activity. If you haven't been very active for some time, start slowly. Perhaps try for just 5 or 10 minutes of low-intensity activity such as walking, then gradually work up to 30 minutes or more each day. Start with what you can manage, then move on to more from there. Be active at a pace that is comfortable for you. It doesn't have to be hard or uncomfortable to be effective -- and it should never be painful.

No matter what shape you are in, work up to your goals gradually to give your heart and muscles time to adjust. Slowly increase the intensity of the movement, the amount of time you spend being active, and the heaviness of the weight you're lifting. You'll be more likely to build strength and stamina if you take small achievable steps rather than attempting giant leaps that may set you back. The step-by-step approach also decreases your chances of injury.

If you have a chronic health problem such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, or heart disease, check with your health-care provider before starting an exercise program. Ask what type and amount of physical activity is right for you. If you haven't been active and are otherwise healthy, you can start a sensible activity program without medical consultation or testing. However, if you're going to begin a program of vigorous activity, you should first speak to your physician if you are a man over age 40 or a woman over age 50.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.