I know that it sounds like a claim from a late night infomercial but I guarantee that I have no pills, shakes, potions or machines to sell you. What I do have is the latest research results that highlight the ineffectiveness of many forms of exercise…
In an effort to improve the health of their workplace many corporate health programs have started incentives to encourage exercise amongst their workers. Such efforts have included issuing their workers with pedometers and encouraging walking to work as well as encouraging participation in low intensity exercise. These efforts certainly increase workers participation in exercise but the problem is that it doesn’t mean that their exercise program will be getting any results.
The problem is that many employees in a corporate health programs opt for low intensity activities like walking thinking that exercising in moderation counts for valid exercise. But recent research is highlighting that encouraging low intensity exercise won’t stop expanding waistlines from hurting company bottom lines. It adds to the mounting evidence that shows that the intensity of your exercise is the key to a corporate exercise program that gives health- promoting results.
A research team from the University of Virginia studied a group of 27 obese middle-aged women for 16 weeks.
They divided the women into three groups
- No-exercise group- who maintained their normal level of physical activity
- Low intensity group- who did low intensity exercise x5/week
- High intensity group- who did low intensity exercise x2/week and did high intensity exercise x3/week
The time that they exercised was adjusted so that they all burnt the same amount of calories during each exercise session (440 kcal per session). Using CT scans they measured any changes in the amount of abdominal fat at the start and the end of the 16-week exercise period.
The results were quite emphatic. The women who exercised at a higher intensity lost 47 cm2 of subcutaneous abdominal fat (fat under the skin) versus 11cm2 in those who exercised at a low intensity. The high intensity exercise group also lost 24cm2 of abdominal visceral fat (fat around the abdominal organs) compared with a loss of 7 cm2 in the low intensity group. That is a three to four times greater loss of excess fat.
The interesting thing to note in the study was that because the amount of calories you burnt in exercise was the same for both exercising groups, during the three high intensity workouts each week they exercised approximately 6 minutes less each time in comparison to the low intensity exercisers. Being more effective with exercise doesn’t necessarily mean exercising longer.
I continually hear the bleating of many walkers, “But isn’t walking better than nothing? After all, they did happen to lose a bit of fat”.
Well sorry to burst your bubble but in terms of burning fat low intensity exercise doesn’t to make the grade. The no exercise group also lost a similar amount of fat just from being in the study and the amount lost was not statistically significant.
Walking is only good for two things. It is good for relaxation and enjoyment (which does help improve your health) and it is also good for getting you into the habit of doing some exercise. If you think that walking or other low intensity exercise is going to significantly trim your waistline and boost your fitness you are just deluding yourself.
So what should corporate health programs be recommending regarding exercise intensity to their workers?
I have always advocated the importance of exercising your body at different gears of intensity for maximum health benefit. Just like a car your engine works more efficiently when you use all your gears. And like driving a car, your life rarely goes at the same speed or in the same direction. When you have trained your body’s engine to go at comfortably at different intensities you will be able to easily and safely adapt to the different intensities in life.
So what does this all mean for you?
- For workers that are grossly overweight and out of shape, what type of exercise you do or how intense you should do it is not the most important objective initially
A corporate health program should help these workers just starting to exercise to first focus on getting into the habit of exercising. Just do whatever you enjoy and do it at intensity where you are just beginning to puff. It is vital that they are puffing, otherwise the lack of results will leave your company with frustrated unhealthy workers doomed to become a liability.
- After a few weeks of regular exercising (and you have got into the habit of exercising) to reap the full health benefits from exercising you must stop exercising in moderation and begin to exercise at varying intensities. Start to crank up the intensity of your exercise. Intense workouts can save you so much more time and are so much more effective than a longer exercise session at a lower intensity.
An ideal guide is to alternate between low and high intensity workouts. Because high intensity workouts don’t take as long consider doing your high intensity workouts on your busier days.