Updated exercise guidelines from cardiologists and sports experts call for moderate-intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 30 minutes five days each week. Alternatively, there should be vigorous-intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 20 minutes three days a week. Combining those activities is also acceptable.

The goal is to accelerate the heart rate for 30 minutes twice during the week, and then on two additional days, jog for 20 minutes or perform any activity that causes rapid breathing and a substantial increase in heart rate. More than this recommended amount provides additional health benefits, the guidelines state.

The recommendations, updated for the first time since 1995, are from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association (AHA) and are available on the AHA’s Web site at www.americanheart.org/fitness. The writing group, led by William Haskell, PhD, professor of medicine at Stanford University, says that physical inactivity remains a pressing public-health concern, with nearly one fourth of adults not participating in any activity and less than half meeting the 1995 guidelines.

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The new guidelines state that short bouts of activity—10 minutes or more—can be combined to meet the new half-hour goal. “We see a lot of busy patients who have no idea how to incorporate physical activity into their very busy lives.

Letting them break up their activities, instead of wrapping their heads around a full 30 minutes, gives them a chance to feel that daily exercise is possible,” said Jennifer Mieres, MD, an AHA spokesperson and a cardiologist at the New York University School of Medicine in New York City.

For the first time, muscle-strengthening is incorporated into the guidelines. The 1994 recommendation mentioned its importance but stopped short of making specific declarations.