Being active throughout the day beats scheduled exercise for older adults

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Researchers say older adults who are active throughout the day may be healthier than people who do regularly scheduled exercise are.

They say one reason is that many people who do structured exercise don’t get enough other movement the rest of the day. Experts say it’s OK to start with a small amount of daily activities and then build up the routine as you get used to it.

They say there are many ways to increase movement during the day, including bringing in groceries one bag at a time and using a second-story bathroom instead of one on a ground level.

A new studyTrusted Source says that even daily gym visits don’t have the positive impact that day-long regular movement does.

In fact, the study authors say, people who do choose a regular gym activity as their only workout may be less fit than people who are on the move during the day. “The biggest challenge we see is the tendency to do what we call ‘substitution,’” said Jason Fanning, PhD, a professor in the department of health and exercise science at Wake Forest University in North Carolina and the lead author of the study.

Substitution, Dr. Fanning told Healthline, is when a person does a regular gym activity — be it a class or a workout — and then compensates in a negative direction, feeling they’ve already succeeded in their daily workout and weight-management goals.

“When (a short period of) vigorous activity replaces the regular, things like walking the dog and other activities,” Fanning said, it can lead to a regaining of weight as well as a loss of muscle mass.

The study followed older adults who were actively losing weight. Once they did lose weight, the researchers found that people who participated in multiple short-time activities that kept them moving regularly through the day were less apt to regain weight.

People who participated in “structured” exercise such a gym classes didn’t fare as well, not because those classes are not healthy, but rather because the older adults tended to only do them.

A person loses muscle with weight, Fanning said, and when people regain it shortly after the loss that muscle often does not return, leaving older adults less healthy than they may have been before the weight loss.

The study, he said, backs up what has been sus-pected. “Physical activity is clearly a powerful medicine,” Fanning said. “And by moving all day, we get the dose that is good for us.”

Fanning and other movement experts say that re-thinking what exercise means and adapting your day to include it is a great plan.

“First,” Fanning said, “We need to tone down the idea that if it doesn’t hurt or require a gym membership, it doesn’t help.”

He said older adults as well as other age groups should look at their days and find ways to almost organically add movement.

“The key is to find something you enjoy doing and to find a way to integrate it into your day,” Christopher Gagliardi, scientific education content manager at The American Council on Exercise, told Healthline.

Gagliardi said his organization suggests older adults find a way to fit to complete 150 minutes of moder-ate-intensity aerobic activity per week by identifying activities they enjoy that keep them moving.

Walking with friends, walking a pet, gardening or biking are a few examples.

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