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Studies Support Health Benefits of Lifestyle Activities

Americans know that regular physical activity improves health,* yet only about one-fifth of the population is active enough to derive health benefits from it, according to the Surgeon General’s 1996 report on physical activity and health.

While the benefits of regular physical activity are well documented, few studies have compared the effects of different types of physical activity. However, two randomized clinical trials reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association January 27, 1999, show that lifestyle activities and structured exercise can result in similar improvements in fitness.

The studies measured fitness in terms of maximal oxygen uptake, reduced blood pressure, and reduced body fat. In one study, conducted by Andrea Dunn, Ph.D., of the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, et al., 235 moderately overweight, sedentary men and women between the ages of 35 and 60 participated. They were divided into two groups and placed in either a lifestyle activity or a structured activity program consisting of 6 months of intensive intervention and 18 months of maintenance intervention. Individuals in the structured activity group did aerobic exercises for 20-60 minutes 5 days per week. Participants in the lifestyle activity group practiced cognitive and behavioral strategies to help them accumulate at least 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity physical activity.

After 6 months, the structured exercise group had increased their cardiorespiratory fitness nearly two times more than that of the lifestyle group, but at the end of 24 months, the two groups’ cardiorespiratory fitness levels were similar. Both groups also had similar significant improvements in diastolic blood pressure, percentage of body fat, and ratio of total cholesterol level to high-density lipoprotein cholesterol level at the end of 6 months and 24 months. In the 18-month followup, both groups’ physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness levels declined. However, there was a greater decline in fitness and a greater increase in weight in the structured exercise group, suggesting that the physical activity routines of this group were not maintained as effectively as those of the lifestyle group.

*According to the 1994 - 96 Diet and Health Knowledge Survey.

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