Winter Weight

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Moderation for Long-Term Exercise

If you're beginning a new workout regimen, don't expect too much of yourself--or too little. Results of a study by researchers at Duke University Medical Center suggest that, left to their own devices, people gravitate to a moderate exercise program that's neither too lax nor too ambitious--the equivalent of briskly walking 11 miles each week. The investigators surmise that smaller doses of high intensity exercise may enable people to better stick to their exercise program.

Led by William Kraus, Ph.D., researchers studied 87 "couch-potatoes" who were randomly "prescribed" one of three 9-month supervised exercise programs. A low exercise group worked out an average of 187 minutes per week at about 50 percent of peak intensity; a moderate group, 123 minutes at 65-80 percent intensity; and a high group, 180 minutes at 65-80 percent intensity.

After the supervised period, subjects were observed for an additional six months during which they were free to work out or not. On average, the high exercise group reduced both the time spent per week and the intensity of their workouts. The low exercise group also decreased the number of minutes per week they exercised, but 68 percent significantly increased their workout intensity. The exercise patterns of the moderate group proved to be the most sustainable.

"It appears these adults prefer to do fewer minutes at a higher intensity versus more minutes at a lower intensity, regardless of what they did in the supervised program," says Lori Aiken, who presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Keith W. Johnsgard, a sports psychologist and professor emeritus at San Jose State University in California, confirms the benefits of moderation: "There's a wealth of research indicating that moderate exercise is the way to go. People are less likely to drop off, and they achieve a lot of the same benefits--reduced anxiety, reduced depression and weight loss."

Among those who did not continue to exercise after the 9-month supervised program, the most frequently cited reasons were lack of time and lack of motivation.