Feel you should be exercising more but can’t find the time? New Australian research suggests you can improve your fitness without having to raise a sweat.
Researchers from South Australia’s Flinders University linked walking an extra 3500 steps a day and sitting for just 45 minutes less a day to better general health – and weight loss.
The findings, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, analysed data from 69,000 participants in 64 countries who completed the Steptathlon, a global exercise competition, between 2012 and 2014.
As part of the Steptathlon, participants were organised into teams with their work colleagues, given pedometers, and encouraged to increase daily steps and physical activity. They then competed against companies around the world to see who could take the most daily steps in 100 days.
“Completion of the Steptathlon was associated with an average weight loss of 1.45kg for participants,” lead author Associate Professor Anand Ganesan said.
It should be noted that it was not specified whether participating in the Steptathlon led to lasting changes in people’s health behaviours.
Quality vs quantity
Given the average length of an adult step is about 81 centimetres, the average Steptathlon participant walked an extra 2.8km per day over the 100 days.
Assoc Prof Ganesan said while the findings of the study were prescriptive, it was important to note that reducing daily inactivity alone doesn’t lead to better health outcomes.
“It makes more sense to take a holistic approach. Increasing regular [more vigorous] exercise and improving nutrition in addition to reducing inactivity.”
Alex Lawrence, exercise physiologist with Exercise and Sports Science Australia, said results like this provide useful information to help guide people on whether they are getting enough incidental exercise.
But he also stressed the importance of exercising effectively beyond just meeting a target.
“General movement is important, but so is improving and optimising exercise levels,” he said.
“With exercise I’m talking about starting steadily and building up gradually: Don’t go from zero to 100 with your fitness program, work your way up and let your body adapt to new stresses and stimuli.”
The future of health program delivery?
Assoc Prof Ganesan said these findings also highlight the potential for mobile health technologies to improve health behaviours on a mass scale.
The data for this study was collected via an interactive app available for download on mobile devices and the web.
“We considered participants in low-, middle- and high-income countries from India to Australia,” Assoc Prof Ganesan said.
“And interestingly, across the different countries, income groupings, and regardless of how spread out their populations were, the benefits to health were consistent.
“This technology can definitely be used to deliver health and lifestyle programs all around the world, which is important given obesity is becoming a universal problem and we need to deliver something to help low-income countries tackle this.”
However, both Assoc Prof Ganesan and Mr Lawrence agreed that mobile health technologies will supplement not replace individualised, person-to-person health programs.