THURSDAY, Feb. 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A new study suggests
that obese women get just one hour of vigorous exercise a year,
while obese men don't do much better at fewer than four hours.
The findings startled the researchers, whose main focus was
finding better ways to measure how much exercise people get.
"They're living their lives from one chair to another," said Edward Archer, a research fellow with the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "We didn't realize we were that sedentary. There are some people who are vigorously active, but it's offset by the huge number of individuals who are inactive."
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, more than one in three people in the United States is
obese, a step above being overweight. Obesity boosts the risk of
cardiovascular problems such as heart disease and stroke, diabetes
and some cancers.
One expert did note that the definition of vigorous exercise was
very limited in the study, and the researchers themselves
acknowledged that the device used to track physical activity did
not measure swimming or biking very well.
In the new study, researchers examined the results of a
2005-2006 government survey of adults aged 20 to 74. Among other
things, the survey tracked the weight, diet and sleep patterns of
nearly 2,600 adults.
Accelerometer devices were used to track their movements,
providing insight into how much they exercised.
The study defined "vigorous" exercise as activities that burn
fat like jogging and jumping rope, but not sexual activity.
According to Archer, who was at the University of South Carolina
when the study was conducted, sex isn't as much of a fat-burning
activity as certain other kinds of exercise so it doesn't qualify
The researchers found that the average obese woman gets the
equivalent of about one hour of exercise a year. For men, it's 3.6
hours a year.
"The data was there, but no one looked at it and parsed it the way we did," Archer said. In the big picture, "there is a great deal of variability; some are moving probably a fair amount. But the vast majority [of people] are not moving at all."
What kind of lives are the most inactive people living? "I think
they're living the typical life. They drive their children to
school, they sit at a desk all day long, they may play some video
games and they go to sleep," Archer said.
John Jakicic, chair of the department of health and physical
activity at the University of Pittsburgh, praised the study but
cautioned that its definition of "vigorous" is limited and not
based on a person's fitness level. For some very obese people, for
instance, just general walking could be considered vigorous, he
What to do?
As little as 30 minutes of exercise five days a week can stop
weight gain and improve health, study author Archer said. "People
don't understand that [you] don't have to go to the gym and lift
weights and run marathons to have dramatic impacts on your body.
Standing rather than sitting, walking rather than taking your car,
they have huge impacts on your health over time."
Jakicic agreed that little changes can have a big difference.
"Traditional exercise approaches are not the way to try to get
obese people active -- the barriers are just too great," he said.
"However, we showed a number of years ago that encouraging multiple
brief periods -- five to 10 minutes two to three times per day --
was an effective way to get individuals active initially. Once they
started to become more active in this way, they started to add even
The study appeared recently in the
Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
For more about
obesity, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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