Health Messaging and Exercise Guidelines: What are the recommendations?

Exercise Guidelines and health messaging

When you think of a typical personal training client, who comes to mind? Is it the hardcore, three-days-a-week with you/two-on-her-own HIIT warrior? Or is it the overweight, middle-aged non-athlete who had to muster up months of courage to even walk in the gym doors, let alone set up a training session? Who needs your help more? Recent research has indicated that the prevalent online health messaging and recommended exercise guidelines to which the general population is exposed is not only inaccurate but poorly tailored to those who comprises the general population.

What Are the Proper Exercise Guidelines?

Aerobic Exercise Recommendations

Personal trainers may be so attuned to our clients’ aesthetic goals and also acclimated to those who are regularly exercising, that we may forget that the overarching message is to get more people to simply move more, otherwise known as increasing baseline activity as described by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans published by the Department of Health and Human Services. Baseline activity, or activities of daily life (ADL’s), are associated with increased caloric output, improve bone health, and essentially color physical movement as a social norm.

The recommendations for adults beyond moving more at baseline are to accumulate between 2.5 and 5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise spread out through the course of a week. Note that this is distinct from CDC recommendations that suggest 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week, which illustrates a level of specificity that may be a perceived barrier for some. For someone who is currently sedentary, spreading out 150 minutes of activity every day of the week amounts to 21 minutes a day of brisk walking (at minimum).

Alternatively, vigorous activity can be performed for a cumulative 75 minutes a week. Each bout of activity should last at least 10 minutes. Theoretically, one could participate in three bouts of 10 minutes of moderate-intensity activity five days a week to meet the guidelines.

For children and adolescents, the guidelines shift to include at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a day and should involve at least three days of activity that rises to the level of vigorous. In addition, youngsters are not too young for muscle-strengthening exercise! Any part of those 60 minutes a day can and should include some kind of strengthening.

There are additional set guidelines for pre-/postpartum women, seniors, those with disabilities, and those with chronic medical conditions. It is worth it for every fitness professional to read and memorize all of these!

Bear in mind, the benefits of physical activity increase as time spent moving increases, but bear in mind that most unhealthy Americans are in the precontemplation phase of exercise, i.e., they’re not even considering it yet. If all they see on Instagram are Crossfit athletes doing kipping pull-ups, and all they read in the headlines of online news publications are workouts for a better butt, why would they even consider walking briskly an option unless someone tells them “it counts”?

Resistance Training Recommendations

The same publication suggests incorporating muscle-strengthening activity into one’s routine at least two days a week. It does not specify how long to participate in this kind of exercise, simply that it must “involve a moderate- to high-level of intensity or effort and work the major muscle groups of the body”.

The above-mentioned publication goes into much greater detail and is worth a read, and might even be something we pass along to our brand new clients new to working out.

The Health Messaging People Actually See

Thomas and Cardinal (2020) looked closely at how many online sources accurately conveyed just one consistent message in alignment with any of the present guidelines on physical activity by conducting Google searches. There were looking for any one of 17 guidelines, and found that of the 72 sources they located, the rate at which the articles lacked consistency with just one recommendation consistent with current guidelines ranged from 61 to 100%.

If you googled, “How often should I exercise?” the first article that came up would probably offer information that is completely inconsistent with the correct exercise guidelines. That’s not good.


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How Trainers Can Disseminate Health Messaging

The audience we’re most concerned about here is doubtfully those who are paying you good money to come and train with you in a gym, or perhaps today, schedule virtual training. Many people who are sedentary and need to understand the importance of physical activity and exactly how much they need to gain meaningful benefit are also low-income; personal training isn’t exactly on the menu of options.

Does that mean we don’t have a responsibility to disseminate important information that is accurate and will also reach those who need it the most? Of course not! Here are some ways you can get the right health messaging and information out to the masses:

  1. Familiarize yourself. Don’t be part of the problem. Learn and understand the messaging so it’s at the tip of your tongue, ready to be shared.
  2. Talk about it. You’re a personal trainer. You live and breathe health and fitness, presumably. Therefore, in interactions you have with your clients, your family, and friends, don’t be afraid to work these topics into conversation. People love to ask trainers questions about fitness. Answer them freely and enthusiastically and weave in nuggets that they can walk away with and share with others. This normalizes the message.
  3. Get social. Use your social media as an outlet to broadcast positive and accurate health messaging. If you have a captive audience, educate them, and use hashtags that others who aren’t necessarily following you would happen upon.
  4. Publish a blog. If you have a blog already, great! You’re ahead of the game. Perhaps you write on topics that are more relevant for your current clientele, but now you should consider reaching those who may never secure your services, yet who will benefit from your knowledge.
  5. Offer free services. Find out where the need is in your community. Perhaps conduct group training for underprivileged youth. Not only will you be laying a foundation for the kids, but it is an opportunity to help set an example for parents. If that won’t fit into your schedule, consider just drafting up some flyers or brochures with relevant information highlighting physical activity guidelines. You might even partner with a local business to hold a short presentation for employees or even propose a workplace movement challenge based on the recommendations.
  6. Create new options. For potential clients who are considering working with a trainer, but don’t want to commit, offer distance programming or accountability coaching as an affordable alternative to one-on-one training.

Educating our fitness clients on health and exercise guidelines can contribute to their success by reducing the burden of overwhelm. There are plenty of options and limitless ideas trainers can employ to help people become more active and open their hearts and minds to exercising consistently. Knowledge is power, and in this case, it starts with those of us in the health and fitness industry. The more we can share it with the world, the more improvements in wellness our society will enjoy.



NFPT Publisher Michele Rogers, MA, NFPT-CPT, manages and coordinates educational blogs and social media content for NFPT. She’s been a personal trainer for 20 years with a lifetime passion for all things health and fitness. Her mission is to raise kinesthetic awareness and nurture a mind-body connection. After battling chronic lower back pain and becoming a parent, Michele aims her training approach to emphasize corrective exercise and pain resolution. She holds a master’s degree in applied health psychology from Northern Arizona University. Follow Michele on Instagram.