In 2009, Bruce and Kym Burke authored a chapter in “The Praeger Handbook of Sports Medicine and Athlete Health.” The following excerpt includes the 2007 American College of Sports Medicine and American Heart Association guidelines. It describes our position on exercise frequency (as well as intensity) quite well. The takeaway is that “more” is almost always better.

“The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) updated their exercise guidelines in 2007 for the first time in 12 years. Here are the updated guidelines:

For healthy adults under age 65:

  • Do moderately intense cardio 30 minutes a day, five days a week,or vigorously intense cardio 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week; and
  • Do 8 to10 strength-training exercises, 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise twice a week.

Moderate-intensity physical activity means working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat, yet still being able to carry on a conversation. It should be noted that to lose weight or maintain weight loss, 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity may be necessary. The 30-minute recommendation is for the average healthy adult to maintain health and reduce the risk for chronic disease.

For adults over 65:

  • Do moderately intense aerobic exercise 30 minutes a day, five days a week, or vigorously intense aerobic exercise 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week; and
  • Do 8 to 10 strength-training exercises, 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise twice to three times per week; and
  • If you are at risk of falling, perform balance exercises; and
  • Have a physical activity plan.

Both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity is critical for healthy aging. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise means working hard at about a level-6 intensity on a scale of 1–10. You should still be able to carry on a conversation during exercise. In addition, older adults or adults with chronic conditions should develop an activity plan with a health professional to manage risks and take therapeutic needs into account.This will maximize the benefits of physical activity and ensure your safety.

As noted, these guidelines were updated in 2007 for the first time since 1995. For the general population, it is difficult to keep up with the latest recommendations, protocols, and techniques. Many consider the 1995 guidelines to be the “state of the art.” Those who are looking for kinder, softer recommendations will continue to believe exactly that. The reality is that the new recommendations are asking for more from each individual, regardless of age.

The ACSM and AHA listed several “improvements” to the new guidelines including;

  • Vigorous-intensity physical activity has been explicitly incorporated into the recommendation.

To acknowledge both the preferences of some adults for vigorous intensity physical activity and the substantial science base related to participation in such activity, the recommendation has been clarified to encourage participation in moderate- and/or vigorous-intensity physical activity. Vigorous-intensity physical activity was implicit in the 1995 recommendation. It is now explicitly an integral part of the physical activity recommendation.

  • Specified: Aerobic activity needed is in addition to routine activities of daily life.

The updated recommendation now clearly states that the recommended amount of aerobic activity (whether of moderate or vigorous intensity) is in addition to routine activities of daily living which are of light intensity, such as self-care, casual walking, or grocery shopping;or less than 10 minutes of duration, such as walking to the parking lot or taking out the trash. Few activities in contemporary life are conducted routinely at a moderate intensity for at least 10 minutes in duration. However, moderate- or vigorous-intensity activities performed as a part of daily life (e.g., brisk walking to work, gardening with shovel, or carpentry) performed in bouts of 10 minutes or more can be counted towards the recommendation. Although implied, this concept was not effectively communicated in the original recommendation.

  • “More is better.”

The new recommendation emphasizes the important fact that physical activity above the recommended minimum amount provides even greater health benefits. The point of maximum benefit for most health benefits has not been established but likely varies with genetic endowment, age, sex, health status, body composition, and other factors. Exceeding the minimum recommendation further reduces the risk of inactivity-related chronic disease. Although the dose-response relation was acknowledged in the 1995 recommendation, this fact is now explicit.

  • Muscle-strengthening recommendation is now included.

Muscle-strengthening activities have now been incorporated into the physical activity recommendation. Although the 1995 recommendation mentioned the importance of muscular strength and endurance, it stopped short of making specific declarations in this area. Available evidence now allows the integration of muscle strengthening activities into the core recommendation.

These “improvements” all have a common theme that must be acknowledged: more is better! It does us no good to believe that the bare minimum (which is what the guidelines are) is all that is necessary for us to stay healthy, much less fit. It is a good start—better than nothing—but that is all. The statistics show that our old strategies have not been working.”