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Updated Exercise Guidelines Tout Brief Bursts of Aerobics   

The government also calls for balance activities for older adults to avoid falls   

Man and woman taking an exercise break in a home office

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Move more, sit less and get kids active as young as age 3, say new federal guidelines that stress that any amount and any type of exercise helps health. The advice is the first update since the government's physical activity guidelines came out a decade ago.

Since then, the list of benefits of exercise has grown, and there's more evidence to back things that were of unknown value before, such as short, high-intensity workouts and taking the stairs instead of an elevator.

"Doing something is better than doing nothing, and doing more is better than doing something,” said cardiologist Donald Lloyd-Jones, a preventive medicine expert at Northwestern University in Chicago.

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For adults, the recommended duration stays the same — at least 2½ to 5 hours of moderate-intensity or 1¼ to 2½ hours of vigorous activity a week, plus at least two days that include muscle-strengthening exercise like pushups or lifting weights.

One key change: It used to be thought that aerobic activity had to be done for at least 10 minutes. Now even short times are known to help. Even a single episode of activity gives short-term benefits such as lowering blood pressure, reducing anxiety and improving sleep. Sitting a lot is especially harmful.

The advice is similar for older adults, but activities should include those that promote balance to help avoid falls.

Only 20 percent of Americans get enough exercise now, and the childhood obesity problem has prompted a push to aim younger to prevent poor health later in life.

Highlights of the advice were released Monday at an American Heart Association conference in Chicago and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.