by Carol Krucoff
One woman started walking laps around the soccer field instead of sitting during her child's practice. One man stopped driving to restaurants for lunch and started walking to lunch instead.
These were some of the small changes that added up to major health benefits for participants in Project Active, a two-year study conducted at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas. Researchers randomly assigned 235 sedentary men and women into two groups: a lifestyle group that learned behavioral skills to help them gradually fit more physical activity into their daily routines, and a structured group that used a fitness center to do traditional forms of vigorous exercise such as aerobics, swimming, stair climbing and walking.
The results suggest that lifestyle activity is as effective as a structured exercise program in improving health.
For example, both groups decreased body fat by "about one clothing size. . .2.4 percent for the lifestyle group and 1.9 percent for the structured group," notes the study's lead author, exercise psychologist Andrea Dunn.
"This is good news for people whose barriers to exercise may include lack of time, lack of access to facilities or dislike of vigorous exercise," says Dunn. "Many people think exercise is an 'either-or' phenomenon, where you either go to the gym and work out for 30 minutes or you do nothing. This study helps demonstrate that every step you take counts."
Many people don't realize how little physical activity they actually get and how important it is for them to use every opportunity they have to be active.
In fact, researchers estimate that adults burn an estimated 800 fewer calories (about the equivalent of four glazed donuts) per day than did previous generations, largely because technology has engineered physical activity out of our lives.
For example, one 49-year-old aerospace engineer was able to drop 10 pounds and lower his cholesterol from 210 to 195 simply by taking a few extra steps at the office whenever he needed to use the restroom or get a bite to eat