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Moderate exercise better

( -- According to a new study, moderately paced activities that are done regularly result in more effective weight loss than brief, high intensity health club workouts based on the philosophy of "no pain, no gain."

Many activities, when performed consistently, can contribute to weight loss -- including walking, bicycling, and even climbing stairs, said the researchers. The activities can be as basic as parking further away from the store resulting in a longer walk.

Other scientists say the finding is encouraging for people who want to lose weight but are intimidated by the effort, commitment, and expense they have to endure by joining a gym or meeting with a personal trainer.

"It's taking the couch potato and getting them to do something," said Ross Andersen, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, who has conducted similar research but did not participate in this study. "This is a way for people to accumulate activity for all days of the week."

The study is published in the current Nature and says that the best way to boost metabolism is through moderate exercise coupled with shorter stints of inactivity throughout the day.

Klaas Westerterp of Maastricht University, The Netherlands, measured the activity levels of 14 women and 16 men during the two-week study. All were healthy, non-obese participants ages 22-32.

Westerterp measured the amount of energy expended with a device that records movement, reviewing activities recorded in participants' journals and analyzing urine samples collected from ingested energy-measuring isotopes.

He found that the time distributed between low and moderate intensity activities is ultimately what determined how many calories were burned. The metabolic responses to moderate exercise show that it's physiologically beneficial, researchers said.

"All these little movements, they add up," Westerterp said.

The research is very much like the findings reported by Andrea Dunn, an exercise psychologist from the Cooper Institute in Dallas. "We keep trying in our studies to have people think of things they really enjoy doing. It doesn't have to be a chore," Dunn said. Obese people often find it easier to maintain daily routines such as taking the stairs or short walks than sweating during high-intensity workouts at the gym. Those moderate-intensity routines result in keeping pounds off because they're easier to maintain.

While experts say that there's no replacement for watching food intake and engaging in vigorous activity, most agree any exercise is better than none for helping reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

"Anything you do is fine. If it's low intensity, do it more frequently but move around," said Dr. Gerald Fletcher, physical cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., and a spokesman for the American Heart Association. "Don't drive your car around the block -- get out and do something. It's less expensive than having to take pills after you have a heart attack."

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