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Benefits of Short Bursts of Exercise

And exercise is beneficial even if it's accumulated throughout the day, according to I-Min Lee, MD, ScD, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health.

"While there were few data on this question before 1995, there have been several studies since then that compare short bouts of physical activity accumulated over the day to a single longer bout -- for example, walking 15 minutes two times a day vs. 30 minutes once a day," she says. "These studies seem to suggest that we can still get health benefits if our activity bouts are as short as 10-15 minutes per session."

These findings suggest that almost anyone can find the time to do some exercise.

"That's one of the ways the exercise community has tried to make physical activity palatable to the masses," Lee says. "Pick what you like to do. It doesn't have to be vigorous; it can be moderate. It will still give you health benefits."

Getting Americans to Walk

James O. Hill, PhD, applied this prescription for moderate exercise when he helped found Colorado on the Move, which has expanded into America on the Move. Colorado on the Move encourages people to add 2,000 steps to their daily routine -- about 10 minutes of walking. (The average Colorado resident takes about 5,500-6,000 steps a day, according to a Harris poll.) At the same time, they should cut about 100 calories from their diet. People who do this should at the very least stop gaining weight, according to Hill, the director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. "Physical activity is the key to maintaining a healthy body weight," Hill said. "Whether your goal is to avoid gaining weight or to keep off the weight you have lost, you won't succeed unless you find a way to make physical activity an important part of your life. The good news is that you can start just by walking a little more. Get a pedometer, see how many steps you currently take each day, and gradually increase that number."

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