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Aerobics may have more health benefits than walking, but don't discount 10,000 steps

May 17, 2010 |  3:26 pm

It's the never-ending debate in the exercise world: Does moderate exercise trump more intense workouts, or vice versa? A new study shows both have merit.

L2cpannc Researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada studied 128 sedentary men and woman age 27 to 65. Some were randomly assigned to a supervised fitness training program that did fairly intense training three to four days a week. Others were given pedometers and took part in a walking program that gradually increased steps to 10,000 per day. Members of a control group maintained their normal routine and were told not to add any exercise. The study participants were tested after six months.

The fitness group showed the greatest decrease in systolic blood pressure (the top number that measures the heart’s contractions). Only the fitness group showed a decrease in rate of perceived exertion, a measure of how hard someone thinks he or she is working. The fitness group also had greater improvements in ventilatory threshold (when breathing becomes more difficult as exercise becomes more intense) and peak VO2 (maximum oxygen intake) compared to the other groups; all are measures of improved fitness.

All groups saw decreases after six months in body mass, waist circumference and resting heart rate as well as better glucose tolerance and cholesterol numbers. Also, those in the walking group maintained 92% of the exercise prescription, getting an average 9,221 steps per day in the last eight weeks of the study period. Those in the fitness group attended about 77% of the exercise sessions in those eight weeks.

"Not everybody's going to be able to start in a traditional exercise program," said lead author Gordon Bell in a news release, "such as those with certain health issues or type 2 diabetes, because of the higher intensity, duration and frequency of exercise training that is required."

Bell, an exercise physiologist, added that the control group might have also seen gains since they were more motivated to exercise after completing the health assessment and because they had pedometers.

The study appears in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.

--Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Paballo Thekiso / AFP/Getty Images