Stay Fit—Without Ever Visiting a Gym

Whether or not you feel like it, your daily activities really do add up.

If heading to the gym fills you with dread-and any number of "not today" excuses-you don't necessarily have to suck it up and just do it. That's because a new study shows that everyday activities can be just as beneficial as hitting the treadmill or doing your circuit training routine-minus the cash, sweat and annoying machine hoggers.

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Researchers from Oregon State University evaluated a federal survey of more than 6,000 American adults and their physical activity levels. All participants wore accelerometers to track their movement throughout the day. Part of the group took part in structured gym workouts, while the others simply stayed active throughout the day by doing simple chores around the house and running errands. After four consecutive days of wearing the device for at least 10 hours a day, the results were surprising: Small bouts of activity-even just one- and two-minute increments totaling 30 minutes per day-were deemed just as beneficial as longer bouts of exercise at the gym or elsewhere.

Sounds too good to be true? It's not, according to the study's co-author Brad Cardinal, Ph.D., who is a professor of exercise and sports science at Oregon State University. Cardinal explained that we can reap just as many healthy rewards from an active lifestyle as we do from structured exercise.

"The big take-home finding was that the health benefits were essentially the same for both groups," Cardinal explains. "The odds of having metabolic syndrome were no different and even slightly favored the lifestyle group. The impacts were also relatively similar with blood pressure, cholesterol levels, glucose levels and waist circumference."

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Hooray for that!

The only exception was body mass. "In the BMI category, the people who did the traditional exercise program had a lower BMI," said Cardinal. "We don't know why, but this was the only variable that favored the structured exercise group."

Cardinal and his co-author, Paul Loprinzi, Ph.D., assistant professor at Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY, also found that 43 percent of those who participated in the "short bouts" of exercise met the 30-minute-a-day physical activity guideline. Meanwhile, less than 10 percent of traditional exercisers did (too many excuses for blowing off that workout, perhaps?).

"The thing that surprised me was that current guidelines state exercise needs to be 10 minutes or longer at a time, but we found that bouts as short as one to two minutes were equally as good-as long as they added up to 30 minutes throughout the day."

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Still doubtful? Just look at the extra calories you can burn with an active lifestyle, which Cardinal notes is a much more natural form of exercise: Walking up three flights of stairs versus taking the elevator burns 20 calories; walking into a restaurant to order food versus pulling up to the drive-thru burns 7 extra calories; raking leaves for 30 minutes torches 175 calories; even washing and slicing your own vegetables (as opposed to buying pre-cut ones) burns an additional 20 calories. That may not sound like a lot, but do the math and you'll see how these things can add up throughout the year. The key is to look for ways to keep your body moving throughout the day.

And if you think this study doesn't apply to you because you already hit the gym religiously, think about it this way: "If you already do structured exercise, then you're getting double benefits-all of the benefits of regular exercise, plus all of the benefits of lifestyle exercise," says Cardinal.

Will this alone fight our nation's obesity epidemic? Probably not. But it's a step, literally, in the right direction.

"Society has found so many ways to reduce activity today, so any way we can put more activity back into our life is going to be positive," adds Cardinal.

- by Deborah Dunham

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