ACSM unveils Physical Activity Pyramid

Employees who are confused about just how much physical activity is enough may find an answer in the Physical Activity Pyramid, unveiled in the January/February 1998 issue of the American College of Sports Medicine's (ACSM) Health & Fitness Journal.

The Indianapolis-based ACSM's answer to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Food Guide Pyramid, the triangle-shaped design includes several different levels of activity, with inactivity, or Level 4, at the top of the pyramid, and Level 1, lifestyle physical activity, at the base, or the widest part of the pyramid. (See the illustration, opposite.)

The pyramid identifies the frequency, intensity, time, and type (which the organization calls the FITT formula) for each level. The first level includes activities such as walking instead of driving to work, yard work, or using stairs instead of the elevator. A Level 1 effort equal to 30 minutes of brisk walking, done most days of the week, meets the recommendations set forth by the U.S. Surgeon General.

Level 2, active aerobics or active sports and recreation, is more vigorous than Level 1 activity. It includes aerobic dance and step aerobics, basketball, tennis, bicycling and volleyball. These activities can be performed less often - perhaps three days a week for 20 minutes at a time - with the same health benefits as Level 1 activities.

At Level 3 are flexibility and muscle fitness exercise. These include stretching, flexing and training sets and repetitions. ACSM recommends that the individual seeking fitness use the flexibility exercises for each major muscle group three to seven days a week, and the muscle fitness exercises two or three days a week with a day of rest in between.

Level 4, or inactivity, does serve a useful purpose; we humans need our rest. But an excessively sedentary existence leads to boredom, bedsores and numerous other ailments. This should obviously be a small part of your day.

Good planning, says the ACSM, will allow you to participate in all five types of activities in the Pyramid, and that should be your ultimate goal because it will produce the best general health and wellness benefits.