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Aug. 9, 2001 -- Want to work out regularly but don't have as much time for it as you would like? Fitness experts suggest a three-step plan. Pick a type of exercise you like, fit it into a routine you could do regularly, then do it with a moderate intensity.

A new study suggests people with limited time should make the treadmill and the cross-country ski machine a central part of their workouts. Compared with others, these two machines appear to give you a better total workout.

To get the maximum health benefit from your routine, both the CDC and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend engaging in daily moderate-intensity exercise that burns about 200 Calories per session. But studies suggest only about 1 in 5 Americans actually meet these recommendations, as most people who exercise do it at somewhere between a low-to-moderate intensity.

In the August issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers from Ireland and the U.S. compared a measure called rating of perceived exertion, or RPE, with actual body measurements such as how much oxygen was being used, heart rate and blood tests to evaluate several popular exercise machines. The nine men and 10 women worked out for equal amounts of time on a treadmill, stair-stepper, exercise bike, rowing machine, cross-country ski machine, and a rider.

Overall, men and women had the highest heart rates and burned the greatest amount of energy on the treadmill and the ski machine compared with the other equipment, even though they felt they were working at a high intensity on all the machines.

The researchers, led by Nial M. Moyna of the Center for Sport Science and Health at Dublin City University, say the findings make sense, particularly regarding the ski machine. Cross-country skiers have the highest oxygen demand of any athlete due to the fact that they must simultaneously use their arms and legs.

One thing to bear in mind, though, is that the study involved young, healthy people. That means older people or those with some health limitations may find that they are burning a high level of energy on any number of exercise activities -- not just treadmills and ski machines, Moyna and colleagues say.

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