Exercising at less than an Olympic pace could pay big dividends in preventing heart disease and stroke.
“Every four years, the summer Olympics get people excited to exercise,” says Glenn Gaesser, a professor and director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University, who oversaw a new study about exercise and high blood pressure that was inspired in part by this year’s games in London.
Historically, gyms and neighborhood streets get busy as the Olympics start and people are inspired by athletes going for gold. But we all know that once the excitement wears off, most people resume their sedentary lives.
Dr. Gaesser and his colleagues hoped to determine whether breaking up exercise into small, manageable segments performed throughout the day would work as well as one longer, continuous Olympic-training-like bout.
They studied a group of adult volunteers that was generally healthy, except for some early symptoms of high blood pressure, or prehypertension.
Prehypertension is known to respond well to exercise. But most studies of exercise and blood pressure have employed uninterrupted 30-minute exercise sessions, a commonly recommended standard for improving health.
In Dr. Gaesser’s study, subjects walked briskly for 10 minutes three times during the day. On a separate day, the volunteers completed one 30-minute supervised session of brisk walking in midafternoon, while on a final day, they did not exercise at all.
Their blood pressure was monitored continuously.
The results showed that breaking up the exercise into three short sessions led to lower average 24-hour blood pressure readings. It also resulted in fewer episodes of unhealthy spikes in blood pressure through the day.
According to Dr. Gaesser, the results “are really encouraging,” he says. “For people who think that 30 minutes of exercise is too hard or takes up too much time, we can say, just do 10 minutes” three times during the day. And, conversely, if someone is tempted to dismiss a mere 10 minutes of walking as too meager to be meaningful, “it seems clear that, at least for blood pressure control, fractionized exercise is actually more effective” than a single 30-minute bout.
Interesting. I may have to rethink my own routine.