Even Short Periods of Physical Activity Can Have Positive Effects
Most everyone agrees that Americans need to shape up. Exercise and physical activity are essential to a healthy lifestyle and also lower the risk of many serious medical problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and cardiovascular disease.
Earlier this year, the U.S. government issued new guidelines for exercise. To maintain cardiovascular health at a maximum level, regardless of weight, the National Academies now recommend that adults and children spend a total of at least one hour each day in moderately intense physical activity. This is double the daily goal set by the 1996 U.S. Surgeon General's report.
Howard Eisenson, M.D., director of the Duke Diet and Fitness Center at Duke University Medical Center, says the goal of encouraging and motivating Americans to exercise more is commendable. But he fears that some people who are unable to exercise for an hour each day may become discouraged and feel there's nothing to be gained from briefer periods of activity. In fact, he says, shorter stretches of physical activity can pay big rewards.
"I would probably disagree with the new guidelines because I think they could give people the impression that unless they're exercising for an hour a day, every day of the week, they're not getting much health benefit," Eisenson says. "That's really not true. Research shows that the Surgeon General's recommendation from the mid-1990s is still a good one, and if people will exercise for 30 to 40 minutes most days, they will realize health benefits from that.
"If folks are relatively sedentary, as so many of us are, that's what they should aim for first," says Eisenson. "If they master that and can go further, up to an hour a day most days or every day, sure, they may realize additional benefits. But there's a lot of benefit to be realized by just doing more than they're doing now."
Eisenson adds that people don't necessarily need to work out in the gym with the latest equipment in order to achieve positive effects from exercising.
"Regular lifestyle activities are fine, including walking or doing chores around the house. Becoming more physically active is beneficial at whatever level. More might be better, but some is certainly a lot better than none."