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Notice to Readers Publication of Surgeon General's Report On Physical Activity and Health

Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General was released on July 11, 1996, by the Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1). This report assesses the role of physical activity in preventing disease and concludes that regular physical activity reduces the risk for developing or dying from coronary heart disease, noninsulin-dependent diabetes, hypertension, and colon cancer; reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression; contributes to the development and maintenance of healthier bones, muscles, and joints; and helps control weight. Physical activity also may help older adults maintain the ability to live independently and help prevent falling and fractures.

The Surgeon General's report emphasizes two important findings. First, demonstrated health benefits occur at a "moderate" level of activity -- a level sufficient to expend about 150 calories of energy per day, or 1000 calories per week (e.g., walking briskly for 30 minutes each day). Second, although physical activity does not need to be vigorous to provide health benefits, the amount of health benefit is directly related to the amount of regular physical activity. These conclusions suggest a flexible approach to increasing physical activity. Because a moderate amount of physical activity can be achieved in many ways and must be sustained throughout life to produce benefits, persons unable or unwilling to adhere to a structured exercise program can incorporate into their daily lives physical activity appropriate to their personal preferences and life circumstances. Examples of moderate activity include playing volleyball for 45 minutes, raking leaves for 30 minutes, swimming laps for 20 minutes, playing basketball for 15-20 minutes, or running 1.5 miles in 15 minutes. These examples illustrate the balance between duration and intensity, with less strenuous activities requiring a longer duration to achieve the same caloric expenditure. Moderate amounts of activity will improve health for most of the U.S. population, who currently do not achieve the recommended amount of physical activity (including the 25% of U.S. adults who are not physically active). Those who currently achieve moderate amounts of physical activity on a regular basis can obtain further benefits by increasing the duration, intensity, or frequency of activity.

Although the study of methods to increase physical activity is in its early stages, some efforts have demonstrated promising results, most prominently in innovative physical education programs in schools. Other examples of effective approaches include counseling of patients by their physicians and, in some worksites, promoting physical activity among employees.

This first Surgeon General's report on physical activity and health was prepared by CDC in conjunction with academic experts in exercise science, physiology, epidemiology, public health, and the behavioral sciences. The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports joined CDC as a collaborating partner representing the Office of the Surgeon General. The National Institutes of Health and the Office of Public Health and Science assisted in planning the report, with consultation provided by the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Heart Association, and the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance. The executive summary for the report and an order form for the full report are available from CDC, telephone toll free (888) 232-4674 ({888} CDC-4NRG), and from the Internet at


  1. US Department of Health and Human Services. Physical activity and health: a report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, Georgia: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 1996.

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