The minimum amount of cardiovascular exercise one should strive for depends on your fitness goals, physical condition and age. Physical activity guidelines continue to evolve as we look for ways to address obesity-related conditions that impact a majority of us worldwide. The Surgeon General issued a report in 1996 on physical activity and health. The report concluded that most individuals could reduce their risk of developing certain chronic medical conditions and maintain greater overall health by engaging in about 30 minutes of moderate-level cardiovascular exercises (brisk walking, bicycling, dancing, water-aerobics, raking leaves, etc.) most days of the week (DHHS, 1996). Soon after this report was announced, the Institute of Medicine published a follow up that essentially doubled the Surgeon General’s original recommendation to include a minimum of 1 hour of moderate-level physical activity daily for both children and adults. (IOM, 2002).
This recommendation has been refined a bit since its original release and now includes tailored guidelines that highlight the need to balance calorie intake with physical activity. But in general, if you are at a healthy body weight and simply want to maintain your health status, the adult cardiovascular activity guidelines (ages 18-64) are similar to what was published in the 1996 Surgeon General report- a minimum of 30 minutes moderate-level intensity, most days of the week. Recommendations now have a provision for individuals seeking even greater health benefits such as those wishing to lose weight. These adults should strive to increase the standard recommendation to closer to 1-hour most days of the week. Older adults (65+) should follow the standard adult guidelines, but may need to modify the recommendations to match their current physical ability. Children on the other hand (ages 6-17), should strive for 60 minutes or more of either moderate to vigorous physical activity most days of the week (DHHS, 2008).
US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Physical Activity and Health: a Report of the Surgeon General, Public Health Service, CDC, 1996.
Institute of Medicine (IOM), Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids, consensus report, 2002.
US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2008.