Q&A: New 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report Released — Public Comments Welcome Until April 2

By Katrina L. Piercy, Ph.D., R.D., ACSM-CEP

Viewpoints presented in SMB commentaries reflect opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of ACSM.

Katrina L. Piercy, Ph.D., R.D., ACSM-CEP, is the physical activity and nutrition advisor in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in Rockville, Maryland. She also is a lieutenant commander dietitian officer in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Dr. Piercy is the federal lead for the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. She is an ACSM member and previously served on the Clinical Exercise Physiology Association (CEPA) board.

SMB is grateful to Dr. Piercy for authoring this Q&A commentary and encourages ACSM members and affiliates to examine the report overviewed in this Q&A and offer public comment that may help inform the next edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.


The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines (PAG) Advisory Committee was a federally appointed group of physical activity and health academics and researchers. It was established to review the current edition of the PAG and conduct an evidence-based, systematic literature review of physical activity and health. The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report (Scientific Report) was recently released and the public is asked to submit comments to the federal government that can be used as the second edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is developed. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is grateful for the committee’s two-year service on this project and thorough review of the current science.

Q: What are some of the key findings from this 2018 report?
A: The executive summary provides a great overview of the scientific report. A few highlights are included below. The committee examined several new areas for 2018, including kids under age six, sedentary behavior, brain health and promotion of physical activity. Other areas were expanded upon, such as cancer, individuals with chronic conditions and older adults.

Some of the committee’s key findings include the following:
  • In addition to disease prevention benefits, regular physical activity provides a variety of benefits that help individuals sleep better, feel better and perform daily tasks more easily.
  • Some benefits happen immediately. A single bout of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity will reduce blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity, improve sleep, reduce anxiety symptoms and improve cognition on the day that it is performed.
  • Physical activity reduces the risk of many diseases and conditions. The past 10 years have greatly expanded the list of diseases and conditions for which greater amounts of physical activity reduce the risk.
  • The benefits of physical activity can be achieved in a variety of ways.
  • Efforts to promote physical activity in a variety of settings and socioecological levels can be effective.
Q: Who should submit comments on the scientific report?
A: Anyone can submit a public comment on the scientific report. These comments will be used by HHS, along with the scientific report and input from federal agencies, during development of the next edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. You can submit a public comment through April 2, 2018 or read comments that have been submitted.

Q: How did the advisory committee come to its conclusions?
A: The committee conducted a series of systematic literature reviews to examine 38 questions (e.g., What is the relationship between physical activity and cognition?) and 104 sub-questions (e.g., Is there a dose response relationship? Does the relationship vary by race or ethnicity?) in a range of populations and health-related outcomes. The methodology to review, evaluate and synthesize published, peer-reviewed research was informed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutrition Evidence Library, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the Cochrane Collaboration and the 2011 Institute of Medicine Systematic Review Standards. The committee graded the evidence (strong, moderate, limited or not assignable) and drafted a conclusion statement to answer each question. Additional details are in Part E. Systematic Review Literature Search Methodology. The evidence portfolios which contain the literature review strategy for each question reviewed are available online.

Q: When will the next Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans be released?
A: We anticipate the next edition will be released in late 2018. The guidelines are written by a team of physical activity experts from HHS using the scientific report, public comments and comments from federal agencies. Sign up for email updates for the latest information about the development of the next edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines.

Q: How can I learn more about what is in the scientific report?
A: The report is available online at www.health.gov/paguidelines to download and read, either as the full report or by chapter. If you are attending the ACSM Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota, plan to stop by several sessions where committee members will talk about the current evidence on topics reviewed for the scientific report. Presentations will include topics on weight gain, brain/mental health, aging, dose of physical activity, cancer and physical activity promotion.