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The Canadian physical activity guidelines

In Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) formed a partnership to provide Canadians a Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living. The Canadian guide is similar to the food guide with a rainbow of suggested physical activities which can be practiced daily. In May 2010, CSEP and ParticipACTION released new physical activity recommendations based on three years of research analysis (see fact sheet). Research shows even small increases in activity can bring benefits. Key recommendations for each life stage group are listed below.

  • Children and youth (5–17 years) should perform a minimum of 60 minutes and up to several hours of moderate physical activity each day.
  • Adults (18 – 65 years) should include a minimum of 150 minutes each week of moderate intensity physical activity.
  • Older adults (over 65 years) should aim to include a minimum 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity.

A series of seven thematic research papers were published in the May 2010 issue of the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activityon evidence informing updates to Canada´s Physical Activity Guidelines. Additional information on physical activity and health benefits from Canadian sources is available below.

Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology

Health Canada – healthy living – physical activity

Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute

Public Health Agency of Canada- Benefits of physical activity

ParticipACTION project

Canadian Health Measures Survey – Fitness level of Canadians

The United States physical activity guidelines

Americans now have a physical activity guide produced by the US Federal Government (Department of Health & Human Services) which describes how physical activity can reduce health risks. The objective of the guidelines is to provide first line information for policy makers, physical educators, health care providers, and the public on key physical activity criteria such as the amounts, types, and intensities of physical activity believed to have numerous health benefits for all stages of an individual’s life. Current scientific information provides strong evidence that individuals who regularly participate in physical activity are physically fitter than inactive individuals and are less likely to have disabling health problems.

The fact sheet for professionals provides a comprehensive but short glance at key guidelines for all age groups. In order to gain substantial health benefits, an individual should exercise according to the guidelines.

For example:

  • Children and adolescents should exercise for 60 minutes every day at a moderate or vigorous intensity.
  • Adults should exercise for 2.5 hours/week at a moderate intensity.
  • Individuals who are 65 years and older should also follow the adult guidelines.

Sedentary individuals or individuals with pre-existing medical conditions should consult their doctor or health care provider before embarking on exercise with increased intensity.

The scientific evidence indicates that there is strong evidence that physical activity has health benefits for a number of health conditions in adults including:

  • Early death, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, blood lipid profile, metabolic syndrome, colon and breast cancers, prevention of weight gain, weight loss when combined with diet, improved cardiorespiratory function, muscular fitness, prevention of falls (in older adults), reduced depression, and better cognitive function ( in older adults).

In May 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the State Indicator Report on Physical Activity which provides current knowledge on physical activity behavior and policy, and environmental supports within each US state. The State Indicator Report elaborates on twelve policy and environmental indicators which represents four different types of strategies to increase physical activity.

  • Create or enhance access to places for physical activity;
  • Enhance physical education and activity in schools and physical activity in child care settings;
  • Support urban design, land use, and transportation policies;
  • Develop and maintain a public health workforce competent in physical activity.

Additional information from American sources on physical activity, health benefits from physical activity and Physical Activity Guidelines (2008) is available below.

American college of sports medicine - physical activity and public health guidelines

Centers for disease control and prevention – physical activity for everyone

US department of health & human services – health finder – get active

2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans - Be Active Your Way: A Guide for Adults

2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans - policy makers and health professionals

2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans - toolkit

2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans Advisory committee report - For health professionals and researchers


Alford L. What men should know about the impact of physical activity on their health. Int J of Clin Pract. 12 Nov, 2010. Ahead of print.
Link to abstract

Brawley LR, Latimer AE. (2007) Physical activity guides for Canadians: messaging strategies, realistic expectations for change, and evaluation. Can J Public Health 98 Suppl 2:S170.184.
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Cameron C, Craig CL, Bull FC, Bauman A. (2007). Canada's physical activity guides: has their release had an impact? Can J Public Health. 98 Suppl 2:S161-9.
Link to abstract

Esliger DW, Tremblay MS. (2007). Physical activity and inactivity profiling: the next generation. Can J Public Health 98 Suppl 2:S195-207.
Link to abstract

Janssen I. (2007). Physical activity guidelines for children and youth. Can J Public Health. 98 Suppl 2:S109-21.
Link to abstract

Kliman AM, Rhodes R. (2008). Do government brochures affect physical activity cognition? A pilot study of Canada’s physical activity guide to healthy active living. Psychol Health Med 13(4): 415:422.
Link to abstract

Sharratt MT, Hearst WE. (2007). Canada’s physical activity guides: background, process, and development. Can J Public Health 98 Suppl 2:S9-S15.
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Tremblay MS, Shephard RJ, Brawley LR, Cameron C, Craig CL, Duggan M, Esliger DW, Hearst W, Hicks A, Janssen I, Katzmarzyk PT, Latimer AE, Ginis KA, McGuire A, Paterson DH, Sharratt M, Spence JC, Timmons B, Warburton D, Young TK, Zehr L. (2007). Physical activity guidelines and guides for Canadians: facts and future. Can J Public Health 98 Suppl 2:S218-24.
Link to abstract

Warburton DE, Katzmarzyk PT, Rhodes RE, Shephard RJ. (2007). Evidence-informed physical activity guidelines for Canadian adults. Can J Public Health. 2007;98 Suppl 2:S16-68.
Link to abstract

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