Casual Exercise Is Just As
Effective As Heavy Workouts
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Put away the snow blower and unpack the snow shovel -- clearing sidewalks the old-fashioned way can improve health and shed pounds as well as a formal exercise program, researchers said Tuesday.
A pair of studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared fitness levels of adults. The studies found that taking a brisk walk, raking leaves and climbing the stairs instead of catching the elevator can prove to be as effective as a formal exercise program in improving blood pressure and heart and respiratory fitness.
In a study of 235 sedentary men by the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research in Dallas, those assigned to a traditional exercise program improved their fitness more than adults who made lifestyle activity changes during the first six months.
But over the full two-year study period, the first group's fitness declined by more than that of the lifestyle group, leaving the two at similar fitness levels at the end of the study.
"This is, to our knowledge, the first demonstration that a lifestyle approach to increasing physical activity in previously sedentary healthy adults is as effective over 24 months as more traditional structured exercise approaches," study author Andrea Dunn wrote.
A second study of 40 overweight women by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore produced similar results in terms of weight loss.
Study author Ross Andersen compared the results of a diet program on two groups: one that participated in a programmed aerobic exercise and the other that increased its participation in common activities such as daily walks, yard work and household chores.
After 16 weeks, the mean weight loss was 18.3 pounds in the aerobic exercise group and 17.4 pounds for the lifestyle group. The researchers found significant reductions in cholesterol and triglycerides in both groups, and also found a larger weight gain in the aerobic group after a one-year follow-up.
"This is good news for people who understand the role of physical activity in weight control but dislike vigorous physical activity or believe that they lack time to exercise," Andersen wrote.
"For sedentary overweight patients, a diet combined with a lifestyle program of gradual and moderate-intensity physical activity can facilitate weight loss and enhance weight management and improve CVD (cardiovascular disease) risk profiles," he wrote.
The National Institutes of Health's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute said lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for heart disease and contributes to other illnesses.
Federal statistics show that about one in four U.S. adults are sedentary and another third are not active enough to reach a healthy level of fitness.