Advancing the Future of Physical Activity Guidelines in Canada:an independent expert panel interpretation of the evidence

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and the Public Health Agency of Canada recently initiated an extensive review of the current Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. Several background papers and comprehensive systematic reviews were completed which allowed for a rigorous evaluation of the evidence informing the revision of the current physical activity guidelines for asymptomatic populations. An independent Consensus Panel, consisting of five individuals, were tasked with reviewing background material and literature reviews, listening to presentations and discussions at an international consensus conference, and interpreting the evidence for school-aged children and youth, adults, and older adults, which included grading of the evidence.

The purpose of the consensus statement was to provide a short summary, independent interpretation, and list of recommendations for school-aged children and youth, adults, and older adults based on the evidence presented.

For school-aged children and youth, aged 5-19 years, the following three recommendations were made to stimulate proper growth and development, and offer protection against risk factors for chronic disease:

  • Participate in at least 60 minutes and up to several hours of at least moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity on a daily basis to achieve health benefits. Although evidence suggests that most health benefits are achieved at the higher end of the physical activity spectrum, some health benefits can be attained with the daily accumulation of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, therefore this should be used as a starting point for currently sedentary children.
  • Vigorous-intensity activities should be incorporated to strengthen muscle and bone.
  • Aerobic activities should make up the majority of daily physical activity however muscle and bone-strengthening activities should be included on at least 3 days per week.

In adults aged 19-65 years, the following three recommendations were made to confer prevention against all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, colon and breast cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis:

  • Accumulate 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity or 90 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity physical activity in periods of at least 10 minutes in duration. These recommendations are associated with marked reductions in chronic disease.
  • Include resistance activities on 2-4 days per week as musculoskeletal fitness is associated with improved health outcomes.
  • Incorporate flexibility activities on 4-7 days per week to enhance mobility.

For apparently healthy older adults aged ≥65 years, the following recommendations were made to reduce the risk of chronic disease, premature mortality, loss of function and disability, and cognitive decline:

  • Participate in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 90 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week that is accumulated in sessions of at least 10 minutes in duration to substantially reduce the risk of chronic disease.
  • Engage in resistance exercises that involve the major muscle groups of the body on 2 days per week to preserve muscle mass and prevent sarcopenia (i.e., muscle wasting).
  • Participate in activities that improve and maintain balance, such as dancing, to decrease the risk of falling. Additionally, stretching exercises should be included to maintain flexibility.

The research reviewed suggests that the Canadian physical activity guidelines may need minor revisions to remain evidence-informed. Most Canadians without existing disease can benefit from increased physical activity that is primarily aerobic in nature, but also includes some resistance training and exercises promoting flexibility.

This article is a summary of a review article published in the “open-access” journal: International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity: Ashlee McGuire: Advancing the future of physical activity guidelines in Canada: an independent expert panel interpretation of the evidence, International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity (IJBNPA) 7:41, 2010. If you intend citing any information in this article, please consult the original article and cite that source. This summary was written by Ashlee McGuire for the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and it has been reviewed by the CSEP Knowledge Transfer Committee.