How often to exercise?

A common concern about exercise is that if you don’t do it almost everyday, you wont achieve much health benefit. But a new study suggests otherwise, showing that a more leisurely approach to scheduling workouts may actually be more beneficial than working out almost daily.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, the study, which was published in Exercise & Sciences in Sports and Medicines, gathered 72 older sedentary women and randomly assigned them to one of three exercise groups.

  • The first group exercises twice a week – lifting weights once a week and performing an endurance type exercise another day.
  • The second group exercises four times a week – weight lifting twice and endurance exercise twice.
  • The third group exercises six times a week – weight lifting three times and endurance three times.

The researchers tracked the women’s blood levels of cytokines, a substance related to stress that is a signal to the nervous system to determine if someone is overdoing things physically. They also measured the women’s changing aerobic capacities, muscle strength, body fat, moods and energy expenditure over the course of each week.

By the end of the four weeks experiment:

  • All the women had gained endurance and strength and shed body fat, although weight loss was not the point of the study.
  • There were almost no differences in fitness gains among the groups. The women working out twice a week had become as powerful and aerobically fit as those who had worked out six times a week.
  • There were no discernible differences in cytokine levels among the groups.
  • The biggest difference was in the level of energy expended daily in addition to the calories used during workouts.

More exercise is not always better

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The study found that the women exercising four times a week were expending far more energy overall than the other two groups. There were burning about 225 additional calories each day. The twice-a-week exercisers were burning about 100 more calories daily. But the six-times-a-week group was expending less daily energy than they had been at the experiment’s start. In fact there were expending about 200 fewer calories each day even though they were exercising so hard.

The explanation offered by the researchers is that the twice-a-week and four-time-a-week felt so energized that they engaged in more activities daily like walking and taking stairs whilst the six-time-a-week cut out on such activities. Perhaps this is so. In any event, the fundamental finding of the study is that “less may be more” where exercise is concerned.

In a separate and visual experiment, which was undertaken in France, it was found that people are more likely to exercise when it is fun. Watch the video below.

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