New exercise standard goes sedate Exercise guidelines endorse moderation

July 30, 1993|By Warren E. Leary | Warren E. Leary,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Does jogging seem like too much trouble? Is it hard to find time to get to the swimming pool or racquetball court? If so, the government has a new piece of advice: Find a way to work a little moderate exercise into your everyday routine.

In a shift from earlier recommendations that emphasized vigorous, formal exercise as a prescription for health, government and private health experts cited yesterday the benefits of less strenuous activities, like brisk walking or taking stairs instead of elevators.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention joined the American College of Sports Medicine and other groups to urge sedentary Americans, who are a majority, to become part of the fitness movement. They said every adult American should engage in 30 minutes or more of moderate activity -- the equivalent of brisk walking at three to four miles an hour -- at least five days a week.

The CDC said almost 60 percent of Americans over age 18 were physically inactive, increasing their risk of contracting heart disease, infections, high blood pressure and other conditions. "Only 22 percent of Americans are active today to levels %J recommended for good health benefits," Dr. Walter R. Dowdle, the acting CDC director, said at a news conference. "A national effort is needed to combat the high level of physical inactivity in the United States. You don't need to be an athlete in order to get the health benefits of physical activity."

Dr. Steven N. Blair, a fitness researcher at the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas, said exercise proponents were wrong to suggest that the only way to benefit from physical activity was to engage in formal, rigorous exercise such as jogging, rowing or weight lifting.

Such an emphasis may have discouraged some people from exercising and enjoying the benefits of even moderate activity, he said.

"We've made a mistake over the years by assuming that the traditional exercise prescription was necessary to produce beneficial change," Dr. Blair said. "Traditional exercise is still good, but we now believe there are other ways to do it that have benefit."

Dr. Blair said the latest evidence indicated that people could get the benefit of exercise even when it is not completed in a single, sustained session. Scientists now believe that accumulated periods of activity, like climbing several flights of stairs at one point in the day and later getting off a bus two stops early to walk home, are roughly equivalent to sustained workouts.

Although more research remains to be done, Dr. Blair said, "indeed we do have evidence that the accumulation of short bouts produces significant and important changes in physiologic function and in health benefit."

Dr. Russell Pate of the University of South Carolina, president of the sports medicine group, said that the new recommendations were not meant to discourage people from an exercise regimen like regular jogging, swimming, tennis or bicycling.

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