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Fast and Steady Walking Wins
the Calories Burning Race

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Everyone agrees with the public health messages that call for regular, moderate exercise. However, the best way for the average couch potato to exercise is as clear as mud. Now results from a small study suggest that ideally, daily exercise should come in one steady dose, instead of 10 minutes here and there.

In a study of 30 middle-aged women, researchers found that walking briskly for 30 minutes straight burned more calories compared with taking three 10-minute walks throughout the day. The calorie difference could amount to losing roughly 5 pounds per year, the authors report in the January issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Dr. Janet E. Fulton of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, led the study. Fulton's team measured the women's calorie expenditure over 3 days: one in which they walked briskly for 30 minutes; another in which the exercise was broken into three 10-minute walks; and one day of rest.

The investigators found that continuous walking burned about 60 more calories per day than ``intermittent'' walking. While the difference may seem small, according to the researchers it can translate into a significant difference in weight over time--assuming calorie intake remains the same.

When it comes to public health recommendations for exercise, Americans hear conflicting messages. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) tell healthy adults to accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days. But other experts advocate moderate-to-intense activity for 20 to 60 minutes straight, 3 to 5 days per week.

The NIH recommendations stem in part from the belief that inactive people may be more likely to take up short bouts of exercise, according to Fulton. And, she noted in an interview with Reuters Health, some exercise is better than none. For instance, some studies have shown that brief periods of activity may improve heart health.

But, generally, according to Fulton, short bursts of activity should be just a stepping stone to more steady activity.

SOURCE: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2001;33:163-170.

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