Moderation is the key to sustaining exercise. Two studies show that exercise for less than 20 minutes a day and in moderation can reduce the risk of heart disease by 61%
The first study shows that physical activity during leisure time, but not at work, is linked to a reduced risk of heart problems.
We already know that exercise is beneficial for the heart. What has been less clear is what kind of physical activity is best.
Researchers in Ulm, Germany, have been investigating whether the context of physical activity matters. They studied a group of 312 people aged between 40 and 68 with heart disease, to determine levels of physical activity during leisure time and in the workplace. They were compared to a group of 479 healthy people. This revealed that leisure activity, but not workplace activity, can reduce your risk of heart disease.
Those spending less than an hour a week of physical activity during their free time were 15 per cent less likely to develop heart problems compared to those who took no activity. Those spending between one and two hours in physical activity had a 40 per cent reduced risk and those who spent more than two hours had a 61 per cent reduced risk.
The study is interesting in highlighting the importance of the leisure context for physical activity. It suggests that people should do more than just rest during their time off – they should get moving too! Archives of Internal Medicine 26th May 2003
In a second study they found that participants in an exercise study were more likely to keep up moderate, rather than intense, physical activity in the long term.
While intense exercise gives the most health benefit, it is important to be realistic and focus on what people can, and will, do. Researchers at Duke University have studied what happens when people are taken through supervised exercise of differing intensity. A group of 87 ‘couch potatoes’ was assigned to either high, moderate, or low intensity exercise for nine months. The high intensity activity involved the equivalent of 18 miles a week of brisk walking or jogging, moderate was 11 miles of the same, while low intensity was just 11 miles of walking.
When they finished the program, a high proportion of the group kept up their exercise. But those in the high intensity group cut back on time spent, while those in the low intensity group increased the intensity of their exercise. This suggests that people do tend to gravitate to a moderate level of activity. Those who abandoned their exercise gave lack of time as the main reason. Walking was the preferred activity, although some used elliptical trainers and other machines, or went swimming. American College of Sports Medicine Meeting 29th May 2003