Feel The Burn.

Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD
From the WebMD Archives

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.

In fact, the CDC and American College of Sports Medicine recommendations about exercise intensity are important but they may place too much emphasis on achieving fitness and not enough on the importance of exercise to your overall health and well-being, says exercise physiologist Joel Stager, PhD.

Obviously the study is good news if you like treadmills and ski machines. But what if they just aren't your cup of tea?

Stager, research director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Indiana University in Bloomington, says the important message is to get active and stay that way.

"If people don't enjoy what they're doing, they're not going to stick with it -- adherence is one of the biggest problems," he says. The trick is to pick something that fits more than just your exercise needs.

For example, he says, some people want a group to exercise with to keep them motivated, for social reasons, or for both fitness and social life. Such people might chose not to exercise at all if their only choice was working out alone on a treadmill or ski machine. If you're one of those people, an aerobics or yoga class or even a swim club might be just the ticket.

Moyna's study was funded in part by NordicTrack, makers of the ski machine used in the study.