A Little Exercise May Be Better Than Nothing

Exercise at levels below recommendations may still improve health

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) January is the time for resolutions, and getting into shape is a good one for most people. You don't necessarily have to run a marathon, though — even a little exercise a day could help keep the doctor away.

World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on activity propose that everyone exercise at moderate intensity for 150 minutes each week. Two recent articles published in The BMJ, however, suggest that everyone try to be more active than they were before, without fixating on the 150-minute number.

“We are not proposing that the 150 minute a week standard be abandoned,” wrote lead article author Phillip B. Sparling, EdD, a professor at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, and colleagues.

Instead, Dr. Sparling and team proposed that older, sedentary patients may improve their health by moving a bit more throughout the day.

Past research shows that even moving a little more than you were before may offset some health issues tied to being a couch potato. More recent studies have shown that too much sedentary (sitting or lying) time may increase a person’s risk for diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.

It comes down to making choices with the time you do have, said fitness expert Jim Crowell, of OPEX Fitness in Scottsdale, AZ.

"I believe that workouts often come down to one's values," he told dailyRx News. "What allows somebody who is rehabbing from an injury to work out five hours a week while somebody who is 100 percent healthy can't find five minutes. I understand completely that some people don't want to make time for workouts and that's more than OK. But I believe too many people say they do not have enough time when in reality they don't value working out or being active highly enough.”

Dr. Sparling and colleagues noted that only 10 to 15 percent of older adults meet the 150-minute per week goal and that less time exercising can still be healthy. The goal for inactive adults should be to sit less and move more, they said.

In a similar vein is another recent article by Philipe de Souto Barreto, PhD, a researcher at the University Hospital of Toulouse in France. He pointed out that more than a third of adults worldwide were not as active as they should be. In both 1996 and 2014, a full 25 percent of US adults said they were not getting any physical activity in their spare time.

Since there hasn’t been much change in this group, the WHO guidelines make sense, he wrote, but “have we downplayed the data and set a target beyond the reach of some?”

Every little bit of movement seems to help, and while much less than 150 minutes a week may bring fewer gains in overall health, a little bit can still improve health, Dr. de Souto Barreto wrote.

“The main purpose should be to promote small incremental increases in daily physical activity rather than to meet current guidelines,” he wrote.

Crowell added that “if you value health and fitness you will find a way. If you do not value it then be honest with yourself and stop beating yourself up when you don't get to your workout. If you aren't active, it's critical that you eat brilliantly well."

Both articles were published Jan. 21 in The BMJ.

Funding sources for the article by Dr. Sparling and colleagues included the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Research Council, among others. None of the authors disclosed a conflict of interest.

Review Date: 
January 20, 2015
Last Updated:
January 22, 2015