Updated: Mar 4, 2020
People are looking at their wrists a lot more lately, and they are not just checking the time. Sixteen percent of American adults now own a smartwatch, and sales increased 61% in the past year. The number of smartwatches sold is expected to double by the year 2022. Coveted features of these devices include heart rate monitoring, sedentary time tracking, step recording, and activity tracking. However, how many of the users know why trying to reach certain goals on their device is healthy? In a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only 36 percent of Americans knew the recommended guidelines for physical activity, and nearly 80 percent of them fall short.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that sedentary behavior is on a steady rise in America. From 2008-2016 the average sedentary time increased from 5.7 hours a day to 6.4 hours a day for an American adult. This excessive amount of sedentary behavior has been shown to cause many serious and expensive health problems for Americans, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and mortality. Most Americans would agree that certain levels of physical activity enhance a person’s overall health and wellbeing. The question is, do most Americans know all the benefits that they can gain from increased physical activity? Do they know how long they should be exercising and what types of activities count? How can modern technology help fit an exercise routine into their hectic work and family schedules?
To answer the first question, adults should refer to the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published in November 2018 by the Department of Health and Human Services. This second edition study (the first edition was published in 2008) found that there are health benefits to following the daily recommendations for physical activity that were unknown previously. Some of these newly discovered benefits are that physical activity is now known to reduce the risk of eight different types of cancer, reduce the risk of dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), lower the risk of injuries from falls in the elderly, reduce the risk of postpartum depression in pregnant women, increase cognitive ability in adolescents, and reduce the risk for excessive weight gain for people of all ages. These advantages are in addition to what was already known, such as the prevention of type 2 diabetes, reducing depression and anxiety, reducing the risk of heart disease, improving sleep, weight loss, improving bone health, and improving quality of life. Not only are there physical and mental benefits to exercising, but there is also a financial benefit for being more physically active. Alex M. Azar II, Secretary of HHS, stated, “Today, about half of all American adults-117 million people-have one or more preventable chronic diseases. Seven of the ten most common chronic diseases are favorably influenced by regular physical activity. Yet nearly 80 percent of adults are not meeting the key guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity, while only about half meet the key guidelines for aerobic physical activity. This lack of physical activity is linked to approximately $117 billion in annual health care costs and about 10 percent premature mortality.”
So what are the guidelines for activity that people should follow? For adults, the guidelines state, “To attain the most health benefits from physical activity, adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking or fast dancing, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, like running, each week. Adults also need muscle-strengthening activity, like lifting weights or doing push-ups, at least 2 days each week.” That means for at least 30 minutes a day during the work week, adults should be doing some type of moderate exercise in addition to two days of muscle-strengthening activity. They can even take the weekends off!
As Americans grow older and “life happens,” they may feel it is not possible to fit in two and a half hours of exercise each week, especially if they must drive to a gym or studio. Fortunately, with new innovations in technology, there are a variety of ways to stay accountable to a regular exercise program that will meet a person where they are in the busyness of life. People can now hire a virtual trainer (a real person that connects remotely) through a website that allows them to conveniently get real training and advice from anywhere they have an internet connection. If they are just looking for some guidance and motivation on their own, they can use exercise and coaching apps through their phone to help them train and reach goals. If they want to get data for each minute of activity (or lack thereof) throughout their day, they can now use a fitness tracker or smartwatch to monitor their activities. Some are combining traditional approaches to exercise with modern advances by utilizing heart rate monitors at health clubs or using wearables to measure and increase engagement in wellness programs.
Advances in technology and new research provide people with many valuable tools and resources that Americans did not have 10 years ago. Of course, they must also remember not to neglect other components to healthier living, like proper nutrition, adequate sleep, and mindfulness. Meeting guidelines for healthy living may not be as easy as just taking a pill, but exercise is the most inexpensive way to improve health and prevent chronic illness.