Natural Health Journals

Double Your Training?

A government panel pushes for extra physical activity, but you might already be there.

Official advice is a moving target: Every month or so it turns out that this or that is now potentially good for you, or potentially bad or both. (Think red wine and red meat.) Just when you get one doctrine burned into your brain, something else comes along.

In that longstanding tradition, the Institute of Medicine-a federal counterpart to the National Academy of Sciences released a 900-plus-page report with revised dietary and exercise guidelines. The big news is that the 1CM believes that everybody should be getting twice as much physical activity as advised in a 1996 Surgeon Generals report: The new recommendations call for an hour a day instead of 30 minutes.

If you’ve been struggling just to get in your half hour this might make you want to sit down and eat a plate of bacon. But the new specs aren’t quite as big a departure from the previous guidelines as they might seem-and some health experts have reservations about them anyway.

The exercise recommendation is questionable,” says Robert Eckel, M.D., chair of the American Heart Association’s Council on Nutrition, Phy~ica1 Activity and Metabolism. Its probably heifer to be more active than less active but I think the science behind that recommendation is somewhat unclear. Telling people to boost a goal they might not even have reached yet could also be discouraging, he adds.

Backers of the new guidelines say its important to understand exactly what the numbers mean.

“When we talk about 60 minutes of physical activity, we are not talking about a 60-minute grueling workout,” say Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., the chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. The ACE has endorsed the IOM’s new formula, but Bryant says it’s important “to bring some balance”

The definition of physical activity is key: It doesn’t just cover marathons and laps in the pool. It’s the equivalent of 60 minutes of any sort of walking each day, including perambulating down the hail to chat with a coworker instead of sending an e-mail, The goal is to accumulate an hour of physical activity,’ Bryant says. The effects of exercise are cumulative. Much like change in your pocket, the minutes add up.

Benjamin Caballero M.D., who sits on the IOM’s Food and Nutrition Board, offers similar advice: “MI activity counts. If you are very sedentary, start with modest increments, 15 to 20 minutes a day, and progress from there. Any activity that increases your heart rate is beneficial, and even modest movement is better than just sitting.”

Others say it’s important to recognize that the guidelines were developed in response to increasing obesity rates. The new activity advice is based on studies of how much energy is burned each day by people who maintain a healthy weight. That means that if vou’re fit, you’re probably already meeting the new standards.

How can you tell? Ask yourself “Is my weight stable?” says George Brooks, Ph.D., another member of the IOM Food and Nutrition Board and a professor of integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley. “People who go to the gym a couple limes a week or run a couple times a week, in addition to their daily activities, can easily meet the recommendations.”

The IOM report also points out that you can get the equivalent of 60 minutes of moderately intense activity a day by doing something more demanding. For instance, you can run for 15-20 minutes four days a week and get the same benefit in less time. Thirty minutes of vigorous weightlifting burns about the same calories as an hours walk and that doesn’t count all those hallway strolls at the office.

For the IOMs new dietary guidelines, a few specifics change to give you more menu flexibility (see page 54), but there’s lots that should be familiar. Avoid saturated fat, eat plenty of vegetables and fruits; eat less sugar and more complex carbs,” says Caballero. Despite ongoing adjustments and periodic scolding about various health risks and benefits, that dietary advice stays the same.