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Is Walking Enough?

Better Step Lively

Not just a walk in the park continued...

 

One recent study, appearing in the June 30 Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Review, offers some support for Williams' contention. The researchers surveyed people who walk for exercise and found that only 26% walked briskly enough to achieve the "moderate intensity level" recommended by the U.S. surgeon general. In addition, a mere 34% walked the recommended four times or more a week.

 

Williams' studies at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory suggest that the real health payoff comes to exercisers who crank up both the intensity and duration of a workout. In ongoing research with 55,000 runners from around the country, Williams has found that the more miles runners cover -- up to a very rigorous 40 miles a week -- the lower their risk of heart disease.

 

"The more exercise you do, and the more vigorous it is, the more you benefit," says Williams, whose findings were published in the January 1997 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

How hard is hard?

So how strenuous should exercise be? How long is the ideal exercise session? And how many minutes of exercise should we strive for each week?

 

This is still the subject of intense debate. But two new studies should help provide better guidelines. Advocates of exercise lite have long argued that you can piece together 3 or 4 shorter sessions of 10 or 15 minutes of activity and get the same benefits as a sustained hour workout -- and it seems they're right. In a study published in the September issue of Circulation, researchers surveyed more than 7,000 men. Those who said they typically worked out in several short sessions of about 15 minutes were assessed as being just as healthy as those who did their exercise in one long session.

 

What appeared to matter, the study found, was how vigorously people exercised and the total amount of time they spent doing it. Therefore, anyone who wants to lower his or her risk of heart disease may need to fulfill the surgeon general's recommendation of exercising a minimum of 30 minutes at moderate intensity for at least four days of the week, in any cumulative combination.

Pick up the pace

If you're a lounge lizard whose idea of exercise is picking up the remote control, then walking a little every day will make you healthier and increase your odds of living a long life. But don't think you can shuffle along and call it exercise.

 

"When we say brisk, we mean brisk," says Andrea Dunn, her arms pumping as she powers her way down the corridor as I hurry alongside to keep up. "We're talking about walking fast enough to cover at least three and a half miles an hour. A brisk walk is the way you'd walk if you were hurrying to catch a bus or to get in from the cold. It's walking fast enough so that you begin to feel winded."

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