Public misled and confused about exercise

Researchers in Britain say government guidelines have misled the public regarding exercise.

They say many Brits believe quite mistakenly that moderate exercise is as beneficial as a vigorous workout.

They also appear confused as to what constitutes 'moderate exercise'.

The researchers from Exeter and Brunel Universities found in a survey of nearly 1,200 people that half of the men and three quarters of the women involved thought moderate exercise conferred the greatest health benefits.

The researchers say people have been misled into thinking 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day five days per week is enough.

A similar survey carried out before the change in guidelines, found that 90 per cent of adults believed vigorous exercise was most beneficial.

The NHS guidelines advise that "taking a brisk walk, spending some time gardening or swimming a few laps of the local swimming pool on the way home from work can all improve health.

But the study authors say such activities are unlikely to do much for them and that vigorous exercise is best when it comes to preventing disease.

Lead author Dr. Gary O'Donovan says it is a worry that the majority of British adults now believe that a brief stroll and a bit of gardening is enough to make them fit and healthy.

Dr. Donovan says brisk walking offers some health benefits, but jogging, running and other vigorous activities offer maximum protection from disease.

Other experts are not surprised by the results and say it is very difficult to apply a "one size fits all" policy to exercise, as moderate exercise for one would be intense for another.

Current thinking suggests light exercise means you can talk at the same time, moderate makes you slightly breathless, while vigorous makes you breathe rapidly.

Experts also say the public can be forgiven for misunderstandings about exercise and the blame does not rest entirely on the government, as academics themselves are continually coming up with new theories.

A study published in August conducted by experts from the American College of Sports Medicine said in order to gain any benefit from exercise people need to get in a sweat.

They too say there is confusion about what is the ideal amount and intensity of exercise needed to improve health.

They also say fast walking or heavy-duty gardening would only be considered moderate-intensity exercise, if the person sweats and the heart rate is raised.

Dr. O'Donovan is a fellow of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health and a keen sportsman; he says exercise reduces the risk of cancer and vigorous exercise has been shown to be best at preventing both prostate and colon cancers.

Dr. O'Donovan says that research has proved the value of strenuous exercise in preventing a range of health problems.

The Department of Health says its guidelines are "based on a comprehensive review of the evidence, carried out by a team of academics and expert advisers.

The study is published in the journal Preventive Medicine.

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