How Much Exercise Do You Really Need?

If you don’t read the actual study and only listen to the sound bite headlines in the media, you’d walk away thinking that women need at least an hour a day of exercise to keep weight off. Understandably, that’s discouraging for a lot of people, especially those with busy lives. It’s also about twice the current federal guidelines of 150 minutes a week (or 30 minutes, five days a week). And it’s partly true — until you look at the details.


Let’s start with the federal guidelines (30 minutes of moderate-to-intense exercise, five days a week). These guidelines were meant to prevent disease, and a ton of research has shown that walking at a moderate clip five days a week for a half hour at a time will do just that. That kind of exercise will indeed lower your risk for dying, improve your heart health and actually — according to research at the University of Michigan — even grow new brain cells!

But, as I’ve said many times, it won’t make your body bikini ready, and for many people it won’t result in weight loss at all. To prevent more weight gain, you need a lot more. A 2002 report by the Institute of Medicine suggested 60 minutes seven days a week for that purpose, closer to the present study’s findings. But — and this is a really big but — there’s one important detail that everyone reporting on this study seems to have forgotten: Diet.

In the current study, diet wasn’t monitored at all. The researchers reported on the amount of exercise it took to keep weight off for women “eating a normal diet.” A normal diet? In America? You’re kidding, right? Nope.

As trainers like to say, “you can’t out train a bad diet.” So, if you don’t tackle the eating issue, it’s gonna be really hard to lose (or even maintain) weight with exercise alone.

In defense of the researchers, they didn’t just accidentally “forget” to control for diet. They wanted to see how much impact physical activity alone would have on weight assuming people didn’t change the way they eat. And the answer was: not all that much.

Truth be told, exercising alone — without dietary changes –did help a bit, particularly for women who weren’t very overweight to begin with. For those not-too-overweight women, about 60 minutes a day kept weight gain to a minimum over the course of the fifteen-year study. But 60 minutes had less of an impact on people who were significantly overweight to begin with, which makes sense, since without dietary changes we can assume these women were eating a lot to begin with and were continuing to do so throughout the length of the study.

The bottom line is that while exercise matters — and it most certainly does — it’s just not enough to get the job done if you don’t make some serious changes to the way you eat. Unless of course, you are Michael Phelps. Then I guess you can eat whatever you want, as long as you spend eight to 10 hours a day training.


Shortcuts to Faster Running


There’s something so appealing about the 15-minute workouts and the promise of making fitness gains in little time, especially in these slushy, snowy days of winter that can make running seem like a chore. What’s the get-fit-quick equivalent for runners? Rockie James, owner and head coach of The Fitness Center in New York City has the answers — hill and speed workouts that can be done outside or on a treadmill. Whether you’re forced to cut workouts short due to fewer daylight hours or frigid temps or just generally short on time, promises that you’ll see gains just by adding one of her workouts to your weekly running routine.

Hill Workouts

This can be done on a treadmill or outside. Warm up with 10 minutes of easy running, then stretch for a couple of minutes. Next, you’ll run uphill for one minute. If you’re on a treadmill, use a 4 to 6 percent incline. If you’re outside find a hill that isn’t “so steep that you feel like your mouth is kissing the ground, but steep enough that it still feels like work,” said James. Rest at the top of the hill, then run back down the hill. If you’re on a treadmill, lower the incline and walk for 30 seconds. Rest for two minutes and repeat three more times, then cool down with 10 minutes of easy running.

If you’re a more experienced runner, James suggests trying to run faster with each of the uphill intervals. “Just be sure your first run isn’t really fast or you’ll be too taxed at the end,” she cautions. Another advanced option: Instead of going faster, you could further, she said. For example, if running one minute uphill doesn’t bring you to the very top, aim to get a little closer to the top on each of your subsequent runs.

The benefit of the hill workout? “For one, you’re getting it done faster. Also, a lot of runners often only run one pace or only on mostly flat surfaces. Giving yourself the opportunity to do hills is important if you want to travel to a race, let’s say the New York City Marathon, which has lots of hills. You have to know your body can handle that,” she said. “It also makes you a more effective and efficient runner,” James said. “If you did this workout once a week for four weeks, when you’re on flat ground you’ll be able to go faster with less effort.”

Speed Workouts

These can also be done on a treadmill or outside. Again, you’ll warm up with 10 minutes of easy running. Then, run fast for 30 seconds, slow for 60 seconds and repeat for six to 10 minutes with no resting in between. What qualifies at fast and slow will vary by person. James advises thinking of your fast pace as your 5K race pace and your slow pace as your average training pace. More experienced runners can do a second 6-minute set with 1 to 2 minutes of rest or slow running in between. Then cool down with 10 minutes of easy running.

How do speed workouts help you? By recruiting fast twitch muscle fiber, which is what you’ll need to generate short bursts of speed and strength, as opposed to slow twitch muscle fibers, which is what you predominantly use for long distances, said James. “Your body needs to know how to recruit those fast twitch muscles when you need them for a race. It needs the muscle memory to be able to do that.”

These workouts may be time savers but they shouldn’t replace all of your regular runs. Instead, include one of these workouts in your routine each week. If you’re less experienced, do one every other week, she advises. “Even with every other week, after eight weeks, you’ll see gains.”

Fit After 40: Less Pain, More Gain

fit-after-40Tight lumbar? Sore knees? Overworked rotator cuff? At this point in our active lives, we’ve all got some nagging pang that holds us back from burning as much fat and calories as possible. For me, it was overdoing it in a kickboxing class that inflamed a hip joint. For you it might have been a benign-looking yoga posture. Regardless, there’s a lot you can do to prevent the pain before it starts, especially as you age.

Stay loose: “When you’re continually tight and not functioning at one hundred percent in one area, other looser parts get overworked in order to compensate,” said Lynn Millar, professor of physical therapy at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich. “The eventual results are pain and possible injury.”

Common tights spots are shoulders, hamstrings, lower back and hip flexors. According to an article published in the IDEA Fitness Journal, flexibility decreases up to 50 percent with age. In one study of 1,000 elderly folks, shoulder abduction decreased gradually, reaching about 25 percent compared to the younger set.

Pop pills: Even if you’re careful during your workouts, osteoarthritis is a common condition that can come with stress on the joints over time. Meds can lessen the pain around the joint and improve mobility.

Ibuprofen and naproxen are effective but take gingerly; regular use can lead to cardiovascular dysfunction and gastrointestinal bleeding. If you need relief on a daily basis, consider the supplements glucosamine and chondroitin as alternatives. Many people swear by them, however, newer studies have found they don’t relieve pain or stiffness.

Listen to your body: “Yes, exercise causes aches and as we age, they become a part of everyday life. But if a pain doesn’t go away with rest, or progressively gets worse, then you need to see your physician,” said Millar.

There are other factors to heed, also. “Dehydration and constantly sitting can make you more achy. And overdoing it’s another big one. If you’re not sure of your fitness level, it’s better to do less than you think you’re capable of to prevent problems.”

Get an Olympic Workout with These Snowboarders’ iPod Playlists

playlistOne of the most watched triumphs of the 2010 winter games was U.S. snowboarder Shaun White’s groundbreaking final gold medal performance on the halfpipe — to Guns and Roses, no less. For a sport that’s just in its third Olympics, there’s no question that snowboarding is having its day.

We asked Gretchen Bleiler (pictured in a jacket she designed) and Elena Hight, who both represented the U.S. in Thursday’s Women’s Halfpipe, what songs they had in rotation at the gym and on the mountain as they geared up for the spotlight.

Gretchen Bleiler: “I really respond to music with a lot of confidence. I try to get a good mix of genres, then it’s all about the beat of the songs–making sure I have some that fire me up and some that ground me.”

“Wolf Like Me” TV on the Radio
“It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop” Dead Prez
“Your Voice” Stiffed
“Heart in a Cage” The Strokes
“Ayo Technology” 50 Cent
“Session” The Offspring
“It’s Like That” Run DMC
“Hurricane” Bob Dylan

Elena Hight: “I’ve got such a range–when I wake up tired and sore, ‘Just Dance’ is the perfect song to get me moving, and ‘Live Your Life’ is so good to compete to. It always puts me in a great mindset. But ‘Party in the USA’ has definitely been the theme song for the season. Every day heading up to the hill for a contest or a practice day my boyfriend [Greg Bretz, also on the U.S. snowboard team] and I blast this in the truck to get excited and just let all the jitters out.”

“Party in the USA” Miley Cyrus
“Empire State of Mind” Jay Z ft. Alicia Keys
“Sweet Home Alabama” Lynryd Skynyrd
“99 Red Balloons” Bjork
“Just Dance” Lady Gaga
“Live Your Life” T.I. Ft. Rihanna
“Fool in the Rain” Led Zepplin
“Mrs. Officer” Lil’ Wayne
“Dancing with Myself” Billy Idol
“Heartbreaker” Pat Benatar

Looking for some new moves to try with these songs?

Olympic skier Julia Manusco‘s mini-workout should have you covered.

Shaun White Snowboarding World Stage: Wii Tried It


After watching Shaun White take gold at the Vancouver Olympics, I wanted to soar like the Flying Tomato. While I definitely don’t resemble Shaun White when I’m strapped into my actual snowboard, I figured I could make some headway towards my dreams with Shaun White Snowboarding: World Stage.

This game, UbiSoft’s second installment with Shaun White for the Wii, can be played with just the Wii controller or the balance board and controller. Since I’m looking for games that offer a potential workout, I used both. With my game face on and my balance board ready to go, I stepped on to see if I could master the virtual big air competition or boardercross and maybe even burn some calories. It didn’t go so well on either account.

As a snowboarder, I tried to use the motion of switching between being on my heels and toes, although that just lead to my first rider, Francois, going all over the place. The movements in the game need to be much more subtle, and unlike real snowboarding, there is no real jumping on the Wii Balance Board (in fact the game pauses and reminds you not to jump if you do).

So plyometrics don’t come into play, but balance certainly does. I didn’t have to engage my core nearly as much as I would on a real mountain, but it helps if you want to master various tricks, including ones that involve balancing between being on your toes on one foot and your heel on the other foot.

Unlike some other Wii Fit games, you are not playing with your own Wii character. Instead there’s a group of boarders who are climbing their way up the world tour, chasing White, of course. To start, you’re ranked 100 and only have a few riders to choose from. White is no where to be found, he’s probably off riding his Red Bull halfpipe until the finals come up. You, on the other hand, are just trying to land a truck driver or figure out a front side rodeo to garner enough points to move up in the rankings (Full disclosure, I am currently ranked only 74.)

A 150-pound person will burn about 100 calories an hour doing a light activity while standing, and only about half that amount sitting. Recreational snowboarding, however, can burn up to about 600 calories per hour. If you take World Stage very seriously, perfecting your moves and engaging your core to shoot up through the rankings, you might burn some extra calories, but mastering tricks is more gameplay than hardcore workout.

Level of Difficulty


Next Day Soreness


Who’s It For?

Anyone who is a fan of Shaun White, or snowboarding in general, can have a lot of fun on this game. While doing tricks on the board isn’t exactly as intensive as single leg squats, it takes a fair bit of balance and some technique to master any of the tricks that will help you catch up to White.


The range of locations and different competitions keeps the game fresh as you continue to advance. If you use the Wii Motion Plus controller, you can also build your own moves. Face planting is also much less brutal when simulated on a video game instead of on a real ski mountain.


It would be nice to actually jump on the balance board to make it even more interactive, although obviously I can see how that could lead to a lot of broken boards.

Bottom Line

Chasing Shaun White in World Stage is definitely easier than trying to match his talent on the real world’s stage. The game can be addicting and fun, although it’s not much of a workout. However if you’ve been playing the game with a controller, it’s a whole new challenge to try it on the balance board.