Fitness: Few Minutes a Day Increase Fitness Level (cont.)

Ken Turley, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology and director of the Wellness Center at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., says that the value of short bursts of exercise depends on what you're aiming for

For instance, he says, if you want to improve your physical performance -- say, increase your speed in a 10K race or win a power-lifting contest -- working out for a few minutes a day probably won't do you much good.

If you're interested in improving a specific aspect of your fitness, such as strength, endurance, or flexibility, eight minutes a day might help. But, he says, that's only if it comes on top of any exercise routine you're already following.

"If the eight minutes of exercise is in addition to what you're already doing, excess calories will be burned, and -- assuming your caloric intake doesn't change -- this deficit will result in better weight management," he tells WebMD.

For example, in a study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers found that three brisk, 10-minute walks taken throughout the day can be at least as effective as one 30-minute walk at reducing cardiovascular risk and improving mood.

The study involved 21 sedentary men and women in their mid-40s. Five days a week for a six-week period, the volunteers either took 10-minute walks three times per day, or a brisk walk lasting 30 minutes once a day. Then, after a two-week rest period, the two groups swapped their walking routines and continued for another six weeks. Both groups saw a slight drop in total cholesterol levels and improved their levels of "good" cholesterol and their aerobic ability. Both the long and short walks brought decreases in tension and anxiety.

And James Hill, PhD, director of the Clinical Nutrition Research Unit at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, who recently analyzed two national surveys of U.S. eating habits, believes most people can avoid weight gain by simply cutting back 100 calories daily or by burning 100 extra calories a day. In the Feb. 7 issue of Science, Hill and his colleagues write that "this can be achieved by small changes in behavior, such as 15 minutes per day of walking."

So what should you do if you want to improve your fitness and your health, but can't spare any more time or energy for a workout routine? Try sneaking in some exercise, suggest some experts. Research has shown that working activity into your daily life can be as effective as a structured exercise program in improving long-term cardio-respiratory fitness and blood pressure.

Alan Muney, MD, chief medical officer of the Trumbull, Conn,-based Oxford Health Plans Inc., offers these tips:

  • Instead of taking the car for short trips, walk. Walking is a weight-bearing exercise that strengthens the bones and burns substantial calories.
  • Combine a shopping trip with a brisk walk around the mall.
  • Instead of taking the elevator or escalator, use the stairs.
  • Listen to upbeat music while cleaning the house, and sweep to the beat.
  • When traveling for business or pleasure, look for hotels with a gym or a pool. Pack a resistance band in your suitcase to keep arms and legs toned, and bring along an exercise tape if the hotel has a VCR.
  • When you're traveling by car, stop periodically to stretch or take a short walk.
  • Work your neck muscles, shoulders, and back with simple exercises done at your desk.
  • Do abdominal crunches, push-ups, or leg lifts while lying on the floor watching television.

Keep in mind that adding exercise to your schedule, in any way, in any amount, can also improve other aspects of your life.

"Exercise lifts your mood, boosts your self-esteem and reduces your stress," says Calabrese. "If you can manage to make exercising a priority, you will be pleasantly surprised at how much better you will be at managing life's tasks.

"In the long run, the time you invest in exercise, even in small amounts, will come back to you."

Published March 27, 2003.

©2003 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005 5:47:31 AM