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Strathclyde researchers shape new physical activity guidelines

Researchers at the University of Strathclyde have played a significant role in producing new guidance on physical activity for people in the UK.

The guidance, issued by the Chief Medical Officers of the four UK Health Departments, emphasises the importance of building strength through regular muscle activities and balance for all age groups, and older adults in particular.

The Expert Working Group which developed the guidance for children under five was chaired by Professor John Reilly, of Strathclyde’s School of Psychological Sciences & Health, while two of his colleagues, Dr Adrienne Hughes and Dr Xanne Janssen, were also members of the expert group. A fourth Strathclyde researcher, Dr Alexandra Mavroeidi, was a member of the Expert Working Group for Older Adults.

Guidance for children under five includes:

• infants less than one year old should be physically active several times every day in a variety of ways, such as crawling.
• toddlers, aged one to two years, should have at least three hours of physical activities throughout each day, including active and outdoor play
• pre-school children, aged three to four years, should also spend at least three hours on physical activity, such as running, jumping and catching. At least one hour of this should be classed as moderate to vigorous.

The guidance does not include specific recommendations for children and young people with disabilities.

The guidance for older adults, classed as 65 and over, includes:
• participating in daily physical activity to gain health benefits, including maintenance of good physical and mental health
• undertaking activities aimed at improving or maintaining muscle strength, balance and flexibility at least two days a week
• accumulating at least two and a half hours of moderate intensity aerobic activity each week
• breaking up prolonged periods of being sedentary with light activity, or at least with standing.

Professor Reilly said ‘The new guidelines represent a major advance on the previous guidelines, published in 2011. The evidence base on the health benefits of physical activity has grown substantially since 2011 and that has allowed us to make new recommendations, for example for ‘tummy time’ in babies, and for physically active play and moderate-to-vigorous –intensity physical activity in pre-schoolers.

"The new guidelines show that it is never too early in life, nor too late in life, to benefit from physical activity’.

Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, said: “You always feel better for being active and we want as many people as possible to protect their future health and start their journey to a healthier life now.

“Since 2011, the evidence on the benefits of physical activity for our health has become even more compelling.

“Much of the guidance has been retained, such as 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity. But there is now greater flexibility in how these goals can be achieved.

“Our environment can make it difficult to be healthy, and our health is being damaged by inactivity. But the good news is that even small changes can make a big difference over time.

“Any amount of physical activity is beneficial – the new guidelines therefore emphasise that any is better than none, and more is better still.”