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Low-Level Exercise

Low Level Exercise can give you the same health benefits as a hard slog at the gym

Low levels of exercise every week can significantly reduce your blood pressure and improve your fitness. If you need guidance to develop an exercise programme, as many of us do, consult a physiotherapist or sports therapist.

Traditionally we have been encouraged to walk briskly for at least half an hour on five days a week (no stopping for the dog, now). This was thought to be the minimum necessary to maintain or improve our health and reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

However, researchers from Queens University Belfast have found that similar benefits can be had by walking for only three days a week.

Published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, this should encourage people to get off the couch and get going with an exercise level which isn’t too daunting.

The researchers chose 106 healthy, sedentary civil servants aged over 40. The only thing they changed was their level of physical activity; they did not alter their diet or anything else in their lifestyle.

The Exercise Programme

There were three groups. One group were required to do 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week over 12 weeks. A second group did the same for three days a week and third group made no changes to their activity levels from normal.

The Results Of The Exercise Study

The group who made no changes in their lifestyle also showed no changes in any of the measurements performed. However, there was a significant drop in blood pressure and bodily measurements in the other two groups.

They recorded blood pressure, blood cholesterol, weight, hip and waist measurements and overall fitness at the start and finish of the 12-week study.

To quote Dr Tully - “Our findings showed that systolic blood pressure and waist and hip girth fell significantly in both groups of walkers. Overall fitness also increased”.

“Falls of a few millimetres in blood pressure and shrinkage of a few centimetres in hip and waist circumference are enough to make a difference to an individual’s risk of dying from a cardiovascular disease.”

What You Can Do To Achieve Increased Fitness?

If big changes are difficult to make to your daily routine, you can make small changes which use more energy and burn calories. As time goes on these will become part of your daily life and you can develop and extend them as you wish.

  • Use stairs instead of the escalators or the lift.
  • Walk distances to the town or your work, or to the shops, rather than jump into the car and drive there.
  • If you want to do a specific amount of exercise, agree with yourself how much this will be and when exactly each day you are going to do it.
  • Choose an activity you enjoy as keeping up exercise over a long period is the hard part. If you do not like doing the activity you will let it lapse at some point.
  • Vary the types of exercise you do to keep it all more interesting and get your body to work in a variety of different ways.

This work reflects the difficulty of reconciling the recommendations (exercise at moderate intensity level most days) with what people actually do, or more relevantly, don’t do. The researchers hoped to indicate how a more realistic level of exercise could be beneficial and fit easily into busy people’s lives.

A lack of time is the most common reason people give for their inability to reach a particular level of exercise. The researchers were looking for the minimum amount of exercise which could give a useful reduction in the risk factors such as heart disease.

Conclusion – Low Level Exercise Can Benefit Your Health

Exercise at below the recommended minimum levels can give measureable benefits in terms of health and functional ability. As physical activity is an important aspect in the prevention of ill health, these results are encouraging as they indicate a much lower intensity of exercise is needed to show some useful benefits.

Exercise can be taken in the form of walking, the easiest and cheapest option, and does not have to be done in one session but could be completed in several shorter sessions. This makes compliance with an exercise regime easier.
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