You don’t have to run marathons to get healthy, experts say.
If you don’t exercise because you think you don’t have the time or energy, here’s a news flash: Those excuses no longer work.
That’s because “any movement helps,” according to Gregory Florez, a spokesman for the American Council on Exercise and CEO of fitadvisor.com.
In fact, exercising at a moderate intensity, even in short bursts of 10 minutes several times a day, or doing daily activities such as running errands, can improve your health and probably lengthen your life, recent research suggests.
“Small bouts of activity, even 10 minutes at a time, will have the same impact as 30 minutes or so of continuous exercise,” Florez said, if those small bouts are repeated three times a day.
Two recent studies prove you don’t have to be a marathoner in training to reap the health benefits of exercise or even to get a little fitter.
In one study, published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, relatively modest amounts of activity by older people, ages 70 to 82, paid off in longevity.
The research team, led by Todd Manini of the U.S. National Institute on Aging, followed 302 older adults for six years. The researchers found that death rates went down as daily energy output — sometimes doing things as simple as vacuuming or running errands — went up.
Those people in the highest one-third of daily energy output had a 69 percent lower risk of dying during the follow-up than those in the lowest third, the researchers found. Those in the highest third also burned about 600 more calories a day than those in the lowest third. Even short bursts of physical activity made a difference in the calorie-burning group — they were more likely to walk up two flights of stairs a day, for instance.
The extra reduction in 600 calories per day translates, the study authors said, to about two hours of activity. But it could be any activity — traditional exercise, washing dishes, vacuuming, running errands.
In a study published in the May 16, 2007, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that as little as 72 minutes of moderate exercise per week can improve aerobic fitness. The investigators looked at 464 sedentary, overweight women, on average 57 years old.
One group worked out on a stationary bike or treadmill at moderate intensity for an average of 72 minutes a week; another group did the workout for 136 minutes a week, on average, and a third group worked out for 192 minutes a week. A fourth group did no exercise and served as the control group.
A fitness test at the end of the six-month study found women who exercised for 72 minutes improved fitness by 4 percent. The 136-minute group improved fitness by 6 percent while the 192-minute group improved by 8 percent.
No one is saying you’ll get super-fit working out for 72 minutes a week or running errands nonstop. “But unless you have a lofty goal such as running a marathon, it’s OK to break up the exercise into small segments,” Florez said. It will pay dividends in longevity, overall health, including cardiovascular health, and bone density, he said.
“Any activity is good activity,” agreed Tyson Bain, an exercise physiologist and gerontologist at the Cooper Institute, Dallas.
He urges people to find an activity they enjoy doing. That way they’ll be more likely to stick with it.
When he helps people get into an activity program, especially older people, he starts with an assessment of how well they can move and perform, and asks which times of day they prefer to be active and what types of activity interest them. He also asks them to consider what activities or sports they are good at.
Depending on a person’s health, Bain recommends people aim for at least 30 minutes of activity most days, even though the recent research suggests less can still yield benefits. “Split it up — 15, 15,” he advises those who balk. “You’ll get the same benefits.”
Fit your activity around your lifestyle, Florez tells people. “Strength train with resistance bands or dumbbells while you watch Desperate Housewives,” he said. “Take a walk with a friend.”
You will combine social interaction with activity, and both have been shown to lengthen your life, he said.