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Exercise Amount Matters More Than Intensity


Updated October 16, 2005

Are your daily walks doing you as much good as if you were running and sweating? Yes, according to a study in the October, 2005 issue of "CHEST." Mild exercise such as walking briskly for a total of 12 miles a week, or a total of 2-3.5 hours a week, improved the aerobic fitness and decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. You don't have to be gasping for breath to get good aerobic benefits from walking.

Walking is Good and Realistic Exercise

"The classic exercise regimen has a component of intensity up to 80 percent of someone’s maximum for health benefits. Our study demonstrates that you can exercise at an intensity much less than that and still achieve fitness benefits," said lead author Brian D. Duscha, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina, in a press release. "People find exercise 'hard' and few people want to exercise at an intensity higher than they have to. Walking briskly for 12 miles a week per week is realistic and does not require anyone to incorporate a hardcore training regimen. Increasing your mileage or intensity will give you even greater health benefits."

Research Compares Exercise Intensity Effect on Overweight Middle-Aged Subjects

The Duke University Medical Center study looked at 133 subjects who probably mirror many of us: sedentary, overweight, aged 40-65, with too much fat in their blood. They broke them into 4 groups. The high-intensity groups jogged at a heart rate of 65-80% of maximum, one group for 20 miles a week, one for 12 miles per week. The moderate-intensity group walked at a moderate heart rate of 40-55% of max for 12 miles per week. There was a control group of nonexercising patients. Their cardiopulmonary fitness was tested at the beginning and after 709 months of exercise.

Amount of Exercise More Important Than Intensity

All exercise groups significantly improved their absolute and relative peak oxygen consumption and time to exhaustion (TTE) compared to baselines scores, and lost an average of 2.87 pounds. Increasing the exercise intensity from the moderate intensity of walking to the high intensity of running didn't significantly improve peak oxygen consumption - all that extra gasping for breath didn't give any better effects. "Although our results did point toward amount being more important, it is very likely fitness levels can be improved by increasing either amount or intensity," said Duscha in a press release.

Start Exercising at Any Level - and Keep Going!

"If you distill our results down, the public health message is: You only need to walk briskly for 12 miles per week or for approximately 125 to 200 minutes per week to improve your health," said Duscha.

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