WASHINGTON — For most people, 30 minutes a day just won't cut it anymore. That's according to the new guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture.

In January, the HHS released its Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, in which the department recommended at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (not counting usual activity) on most days. However, it states that for most people, greater health benefits can be obtained by engaging in activity that's more intense or for a longer amount of time. The recommendations encourage not only cardiovascular conditioning, but also stretching for flexibility and resistance exercises or calisthenics for muscle strength and endurance.

For those wanting to prevent weight gain, the HHS recommends 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise on most days of the week. For those wishing to drop pounds, 60 minutes to 90 minutes of daily, moderate-intensity exercise is advised. Now, that's a lot of time spent at the gym.

“Up to 60 to 90 minutes of exercise — that's a lot, but I'm glad it's there. People need to realize that it's tougher to keep weight off once you've lost it, and doing more exercise is a key strategy for doing so according to research on those who have lost weight and kept it off,” said Elisa Zied, registered dietician (RD) and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

The guidelines emphasize balancing nutritious foods with activity and increasing the public's consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Based on research, the guidelines are not a diet per say but a way of life — a way of life your members and clients may need some help deciphering.

“[The guidelines] are very specific, but individuals may need help figuring out exactly how to implement these — that's where a registered dietitian comes in,” Cynthia Sass, RD and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, said. “He or she can sit down with an individual and talk about what this means for shopping, dining out, snacking, cooking, meal composition, etc.”

Perhaps the most notable change in the dietary guidelines is the increased focus on caloric intake and expenditure through physical activity and exercise.

“They basically say what registered dietitians have known for a long time — that calories matter most, not how much carbohydrate, fat and protein are in your diet — when it comes to weight management,” Zied said.

Other changes relate to the number of servings advised. The guideline recommends that most adults eat nine servings a day of fruits and vegetables. For someone who consumes 2,000 calories a day (such as a typical, moderately active young woman), that's the equivalent of eating 2 cups of fruit and 2-1/2 cups of vegetables. Depending on individual calorie needs, the recommended range is five to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables, up from five to 10 servings just five years ago, Zied said. For the first time, three one-ounce servings of whole grains are recommended each day. Again, for someone who consumes 2,000 calories a day, that's half of the total number of grain servings recommended (six a day), Zied said.

Low fat and nonfat varieties of milk, yogurt and cheese were emphasized to decrease saturated fat and cholesterol intake while dairy intake increased from two to three servings a day to three. Total fat recommendations increased from 20 percent-30 percent to 20 percent-35 percent.

“They want us to get most of our fat calories from unsaturated sources, citing many health benefits,” Zied explained. “Polyunsaturated sources include fish (that are rich in omega 3's — such as salmon, tuna, mackerel), and monounsaturated sources include olive oil and canola oil. They also advise about 2 tablespoons or 6 teaspoons a day from highly monounsaturated vegetable oils like olive and canola oil. There had been no specific recommendations like this made in the past.”

Sodium intake dropped slightly from 2,400 mg a day to 2,300 mg a day, and an increase in potassium from fruits and vegetables was mentioned.

As in the last edition, the report stresses that saturated fat should be limited to less than 10 percent of total fat consumed, cholesterol to less than 300 milligrams and trans fats to as little as possible with no specific limit listed.

The lack of a cap on added sugar intake surprised Zied, but she was pleased with the concept of discretionary calories.

“These are calories you have left over (though many of us won't have room for them!) once we meet all our nutrient requirements for the day,” Zied said. “If we eat lots of lower calorie foods like fruits, veggies and whole grains, and we eat lean protein sources and low fat dairy, we might have some extra calories. They say we can get these from oils/fats or foods made with them, sugars/foods with added sugars or alcoholic beverages. I think it's a good concept, and one I can certainly wrap my finger around.”

Besides having a resident RD on hand to answer questions, Zied said fitness clubs can play a large role in making the population healthier.

“Fitness clubs will help people find enjoyable, sustainable fitness routines that they can incorporate inside the gym as well as at home and when they're on the go. Hopefully, we'll move toward increasing the activity in daily living as opposed to just encouraging hardcore gym workouts.”

This sixth edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans supports the HealthierUS Initiative. Federal law requires that the guidelines be reviewed every five years.

The complete report can be found at www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines.