Tag Archives: health and fitness

Exercise: Is Less More?

OK. I finished my five-mile run early this am. I generally do this five days a week. And it takes me about an hour each day from start to finish. Am I exercising too much for my own good?

Maybe.

I’ve been doing this now for more than 30 years. And like most nonprofessional runners, I started one day long ago by huffing and puffing trying to make my way around the block. Then a year or so later I found myself crossing the finish line at the Columbus Marathon.

The theory was always to push as much as possible. Add miles and time spent on the concrete or treadmill progressively. And I have the log books to prove it.

But an article in the NYT — “Phys Ed: Moderation as the Exercise Sweet Spot” — advances the idea that when it comes to the health benefits you get from exercise, moderation is key. And less might just be more.

For people who exercise but fret that they really should be working out more, new studies may be soothing. The amount of exercise needed to improve health and longevity, this new science shows, is modest, and more is not necessarily better.

That is the message of the newest and perhaps most compelling of the studies, which was presented on Saturday at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in San Francisco. For it, researchers at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health and other institutions combed through the health records of 52,656 American adults who’d undergone physicals between 1971 and 2002 as part of the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study at the Cooper Institute in Dallas. Each participant completed physical testing and activity questionnaires and returned for at least one follow-up visit.

The researchers found that about 27 percent of the participants reported regularly running, although in wildly varying amounts and paces.

The scientists then checked death reports.

Over the course of the study, 2,984 of the participants died. But the incidence was much lower among the group that ran. Those participants had, on average, a 19 percent lower risk of dying from any cause than non-runners.

Notably, in closely parsing the participants’ self-reported activities, the researchers found that running in moderation provided the most benefits. Those who ran 1 to 20 miles per week at an average pace of about 10 or 11 minutes per mile — in other words, jogging — reduced their risk of dying during the study more effectively than those who didn’t run, those (admittedly few) who ran more than 20 miles a week, and those who typically ran at a pace swifter than seven miles an hour.

“These data certainly support the idea that more running is not needed to produce extra health and mortality benefits,” said Dr. Carl J. Lavie, medical director of cardiac rehabilitation and prevention at the Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans and an author of the study. “If anything,” he continued, “it appears that less running is associated with the best protection from mortality risk. More is not better, and actually, more could be worse.”

Oh, mama. Something else to fret about.

Regardless, any amount of walking, running, swimming, biking and so on seems to me to go in the plus column.

And if more people exercised even moderately instead of regularly downing a keg of Coke and a trailer full of popcorn at the movies, we might all be better off.

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Will Eating Chocolate Make You Thin?

Well, as with most things in life, it looks like I have this exercise and diet thing all wrong. I’m up nearly every day grinding out the miles on the treadmill or concrete. And I’m fairly regimented about what I stuff in my mouth — not withstanding the daily routine of downing Jameson during happy hour.

Better that I should just eat chocolate. And hey. I’d be OK with that. The view from the treadmill hasn’t changed all that much in 30 years, even as my waistline keeps expanding.

Here’s from USA Today, “Chocolate lovers are thinner, study says“:

Sweet news about those chocolate cravings: People who eat moderate amounts regularly are thinner than those who eat chocolate less often.

The new research involved 1,018 healthy men and women, who exercised on average 3.6 times a week and had a balanced, nutritious diet. The body mass index of those who ate chocolate five times a week was 1 point lower than people who did not eat it regularly. Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight.

“I was pretty happy with this news myself,” says lead author Beatrice Golomb, associate professor of medicine at the University of California-San Diego. “Findings show the composition of calories, not just the number of them, matters for determining ultimate weight.”

And from the NYT, “The Chocolate Diet“:

Chocolate may not be as hazardous to your waistline as you think — at least in moderation.

A new study shows that people who eat chocolate frequently have lower body mass indexes than those who eat it less often. The researchers could not explain precisely why something usually loaded with sugar, fat and calories would have a beneficial effect on weight. But they suspect that antioxidants and other compounds in chocolate may deliver a metabolic boost that can offset its caloric downside.

Chocoholics may know that in recent years chocolate has been linked to a growing list of health benefits. Studies have found, for example, that regularly eating chocolate may lower blood pressure and cardiovascular risk, and improve cholesterol and insulin regulation.

Although the new study is among the first to look at chocolate’s effect on weight, the findings “are compatible with other evidence showing favorable metabolic effects that are known to track with body mass index,” said Dr. Beatrice A. Golomb, lead author of the study and an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego.

Dr. Golomb’s study, published in Archives of Internal Medicine and financed by the National Institutes of Health, involved roughly 1,000 adults. The researchers looked at data on how often they exercised, the amount and type of calories they ate — including a breakdown of the types of dietary fat they consumed — and how their health and weight related to their chocolate intake. On average, the subjects were middle-aged, exercised about three times a week and ate chocolate about twice a week. There was no breakdown of the kinds of chocolate they ate, whether dark, milk or white.

The people who ate chocolate the most frequently, despite eating more calories and exercising no differently from those who ate the least chocolate, tended to have lower B.M.I.’s. There was a difference of roughly five to seven pounds between subjects who ate five servings of chocolate a week and those who ate none, Dr. Golomb said.

Sweet.

I guess it won’t be too long before someone is opining that eating popcorn may be better for you than many fruits and vegetables.

That will give me something to think about while chasing the treadmill belt tomorrow early a.m.