Small ‘workouts’ add up
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, March 4, 2013 01:03
A study recently published in the January/February 2013 volume of the American Journal of Health Promotion found everyday activities such as taking the stairs and biking to work can have the same health benefits as working out at a fitness center.
The study was conducted by Brad Cardinal, professor of exercise and sport science at Oregon State University, and Paul Loprinzi, an OSU alumnus who is now a professor of exercise science at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky.
Although the study came out just this month, it was based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, collected between 2003 and 2006.
“The [National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey] data is collected year round, from all regions of the country, and should generalize to adults ages 18-85 around the United States,” Cardinal said.
Cardinal and Loprinzi analyzed the data in 2010, and submitted the study in May of that year. The data used in the study came from 6,321 male and female participants of all ethnicities and between 18 and 85 years of age. The average age of a participant was 48.
Participants in the study wore accelerometers to track their movement and pace. The study defined “short bouts” of exercise as exercise in intervals of less than 10 minutes, while “long bouts” were defined as exercise in intervals greater than or equal to 10 minutes.
“We’re pleased to report that in every category except [Body Mass Index], the health benefits are equally good for small bouts of exercise as well as long bouts, so long as the [total exercise] adds up to 150 minutes per week,” Cardinal said.
The study’s results showed no difference in blood pressure, cholesterol, waist circumference and glucose, among other measurements, between participants who did the short bouts of exercise versus those who did the longer bouts.
“The three biggest positive health outcomes from short bouts of exercise are reduced blood pressure, reduced waist circumference, and reduced cholesterol levels,” Cardinal said.
The number of participants in the study who met the national physical activity guidelines for adults of 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous exercise increased more than four-fold when exercise was measured with the short-bout guidelines.
“If we use the long bout guidelines, less than 10 percent of participants in the study meet the requirements [of 150 minutes per week],” Cardinal said. “That number jumps to 43 percent when we measure exercise using the short bouts.”
How can students who have tight study and work schedules incorporate the results of the study to improve their overall health? Cardinal offers some suggestions.
“If you’re working on a paper, every hour, have a prompt on your computer that reminds you to get up and move,” Cardinal said. “You can also walk or bike to campus, or park your car further away.”
Other activities Cardinal suggested might be considered “short bouts” of physical exercise include going into a restaurant to order food rather than going through the drive-through, and walking in airports rather than using “moving sidewalks.”
“In America, 89 percent of trips are made by an automobile,” Cardinal said. “Many of these could be replaced by walking or biking.”
Why is it that even with the short bouts, less than half of the participants in the study meet the federal guidelines of 150 minutes per week? Cardinal discussed a number of possible causes, including lack of time, priorities and life circumstances.
“If you ask people, they will often say that ‘a lack of time’ is the primary reason,” Cardinal said. “In part, this is why the ‘lifestyle physical activity’ approach has some appeal. People can build activity into their day by choosing to seek out opportunities to be physically active.”
Cardinal also talked about how priorities can explain why so many people don’t achieve the recommended amount of physical activity. “If people value something, they make time for it,” Cardinal said. “People spend six to seven hours per week interacting with social media. Obviously, some of that time could be replaced by physical activity. Why do people make time for [social media] but not physical activity?”
Cardinal strongly encourages people to make time for physical exercise.
“There are 10,080 minutes available per week,” Cardinal said. “The adult physical activity guidelines suggest that 150 of those minutes be spent engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. That’s only 1.5 percent of the time, and the payoff for doing so is improved health, vitality and wellness.”
Vinay Ramakrishnan, news reporter