Some people find that getting lots and lots of exercise -- ultramarathoners and Ironmen/women, I'm talking to you -- works for them. But for the majority of us, extreme activity may be counterproductive.
Recent research suggests that excessive endurance exercise over the long term may cause harmful changes in the heart. Extreme fitness programs like P90X and Crossfit, which have been rising in popularity, can inflict musculoskeletal injuries, especially if you’re not already fit going into them.
Why is it that many people gravitate toward the idea that if a little is good, a lot must be even better? And what about the other end of the spectrum, where plenty of people think that if they can't do a lot, it's not worth their time at all?
The best path may be down the middle.
A new study in the American Journal of Health Promotion included more than 6,000 adults from young to old. All the participants wore a device that tracked movement to measure their physical activity. The researchers were interested in whether the activity was in short spurts of less than 10 minutes or longer bouts of at least 10 minutes.
They found that engaging in short bursts of activity is linked as strongly with several health outcomes as doing longer exercise sessions. Which means, they concluded, that even if you don’t feel like you have much time to exercise, you can still improve your health just by staying active in general.
Getting more movement isn’t hard. It just requires following a few basic principles: When possible, walk or ride your bike more, and drive less. Move under your own steam when possible. Sit less, and stand and walk around more.
This could mean:
- Vowing to take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator
- Volunteering to help coach your kid’s sports team so you’re moving around the field instead of sitting during practice
- Riding a stationary bike while you’re watching TV. If you don’t have one, do pushups or jumping jacks during TV commercials.
- Taking the family outside to play after dinner during the warm months
- Getting a dog that likes to go on long walks every day
- Hopping up and delivering messages in person at work, rather than sending emails or making a call
By the end of the day, you can accumulate plenty of health-protecting exercise without even noticing it!
For even more tips on how to get better health and need the health care system less, check out: The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System by Dr. Cynthia D. Haines, M.D. (Dr. Cindy Haines) and Eric Metcalf, M.P.H. This is a book about getting what you really want: better health on your own terms.