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Exercise: Even a little is good!

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Are you afraid to start an exercise program because you think you don't have enough time to meet national standards? Well, here's some good news. New research shows that even a little exercise can significantly improve your physical fitness. An article in the May 16, 2007 issue of "The Journal of the American Medical Association" reports that as little as 75 minutes of exercise per week can improve cardiorespiratory fitness levels in overweight individuals who were previously sedentary. This level of activity is about one half of that currently recommended by the National Institutes of Health (current recommendations are for 30 minutes of exercise five times per week for a total of 150 minutes).

The research was conducted in postmenopausal women who were overweight or obese and who were sedentary (meaning they exercised for less than 20 minutes three days a week). There were four groups: no exercise, 50%, 100% and 150% of current guidelines (meaning 75 minutes, 150 minutes and 200 minutes per week). Exercise consisted of either walking or cycling (stationary bike). At the end of six months, the groups were tested for cardiorespiratory fitness, and there was a direct correlation between the amount of exercise and the improvement in fitness. Although more exercise equated with more improvement, the major finding was that significant improvement was seen even at the lowest exercise level – 75 minutes per week.

I should point out that although fitness improved, weight loss did not occur, and there was no improvement in blood pressure or blood lipid levels (cholesterol and fat). But improved fitness is still an extremely worthy goal. It has previously been shown that women who walked for as little as 1-1.5 hours a week (60-90 minutes) had half the risk of developing coronary heart disease than sedentary women. According to the study authors, “Low fitness is a powerful, independent risk factor for premature mortality. Perhaps the most striking finding of our study is that even activity at … approximately 72 min/wk was associated with a significant improvement in fitness.”

We all know that when it comes to exercise, the more the better. But such statements can put people off: “I just can't do that much.” But now there is proof that the converse is also true: Even a little is good. As little as 10 to 15 minutes of walking a day can significantly improve your fitness and help reduce your risk of heart disease and premature mortality. Why not start today?

Last Updated:5/24/2007
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