It's universally acknowledged that exercising helps you live longer, as well as improving your general health and even elevating your mood. But the question is: how much exercise and in what form?
Many people, even those who would like to improve their health, balk when it comes to joining a gym, starting a jogging regime or playing competitive sport, and many find these kinds of activities so off-putting that they end up doing no exercise at all.
However, recent scientific studies hold out a beacon of hope for the gym-phobic. According to the results of an American experiment, the amount of small movements you make could be the difference between being fat and thin.
Forget sweaty work-outs: fidgeting, cleaning, tapping your toes, walking - all these everyday things might be the secret of keeping off excess weight and staying fit.
"A person can expend calories either by going to the gym, or through everyday activities," explains Dr James Levine, the endocrinologist who led the study. "Our study shows that the calories that people burn in their everyday activities are far, far more important in obesity than we previously imagined."
How fidgets stay fit
When exploring the reasons for obesity, scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota used sensors to minutely examine the movements of both lean and obese people.
They found that, on average, the overweight people sat for 150 minutes more each day than their lean counterparts. Thinner people simply moved, walked and fidgeted more than obese ones.
The scientists call this type of movement NEAT - short for non-exercise thermogenesis - and see it as a way in which everyone can exercise. "The kind of activity we are talking about does not require special or large spaces, unusual training regimens or gear," says Dr Levine. "Unlike running a marathon, NEAT is within the reach of everyone."
It's not the first study to endorse everyday exercise. Dutch scientists found that moderate exercise fitted into everyday life is more beneficial than bursts of high-intensity activity followed by slumping on the sofa.
The researchers at Maastricht University also concluded that moderate activities such as walking and cycling are better tolerated than high intensity work-outs, particularly by those in middle life.
The Government seems to agree too. Although official policy advises 30 minutes of moderate activity at least five times a week to stay fit, Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson says: "It is not about spending hours and hours in the gym, but it is about finding ways to build activities into our daily lives."
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