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New Research Suggests That Small Amounts of Physical Activity Add Up to Big Health Benefits

New Research Suggests That Small Amounts of Physical Activity Add Up to Big Health Benefits

Saturday, June 15, 2013 - 12:27am

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Famous for being featured in the movie the Exorcist, these steps are located in Georgetown, at 36th and M St.


Finding 30 to 60 minutes a day to exercise can be difficult. Throw in the general fatigue induced by living a busy life and the task can feel insurmountable.

Good news.

New research from Oregon State University suggests that short intervals of activity can add up and provide similar health benefits as longer bouts of sustained exercise.

Current physical activity guidelines suggest that adults exercise in intervals of 10 minutes or more. Oregon State researchers Drs. Bradley Cardinal and Paul Loprinzi wanted to know if shorter exercise intervals (think taking the stairs or parking farther way) would provide similar health benefits as traditional exercise practiced in longer intervals.

Cardinal and Loprinzi analyzed data collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). NHANES is administered by the Center for Disease Control.

Participants in the study wore devices called accelerometers to monitor their physical activity.

To investigate how physical activity correlated with health, the participants were also tested for biological metrics associated with a higher risk for disease, including metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors that occur together and increase the risk for coronary artery disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

The authors found that, with the exception of body mass index, those who met the physical activity guidelines (150 minutes/week of moderate-intensity exercise, 75 minutes/week of high-intensity exercise, or a combination of the two) enjoyed similar health outcomes, regardless of whether the activity came in short bursts (less than 10 minutes) or longer, sustained workouts (greater than 10 minutes).

Writing in a press release, Loprinzi said, “Our results suggest that engaging in an active lifestyle approach, compared to a structured exercise approach, may be just as beneficial in improving various health outcomes. We encourage people to seek out opportunities to be active when the choice is available. For example, rather than sitting while talking on the phone, use this opportunity to get in some activity by pacing around while talking.”

The researchers also found that those who engaged in short intervals of exercise were more likely to meet the federal guidelines for physical activity than those who exercised in intervals greater than 10 minutes.

Cardinal, also in a press release, said, "People get it in their minds, if I don’t get that 30 minutes, I might as well not exercise at all. Our results really challenge that perception and give people meaningful, realistic options for meeting the physical activity guidelines.”

Translation: no more excuses, people! The authors suggest taking the stairs instead of the elevator, doing body weight exercises like push-ups or squats during TV commercials, and walking during breaks at sporting events as ways to add extra exercise to daily routines.

Review this graphic provided by Dr. Bradley Cardinal for some additional ideas for building activity into your schedule.

The article was published in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

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