Less may be more

Looking to get fit? Well, the price of admission to that club may have just gone down.

The conventional wisdom, expressed by groups like the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Medical Association tell us that to be fit, we should get at least 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity every day. That's 210 minutes a week. Three-and-a-half hours. A marathon a week, at a five-minute-per-kilometre pace.

That's a fair bit of exercise — maybe enough to dissuade fitness fence sitters to stay in a sedentary state.

Now, a new study suggests that you might be able to reap significant benefits with substantially less time spent doing vigorous activity.

No, there's no new magic fat-burning workout. No mechanized device that will melt away excess body fat and send your heart off to never-before-seen heights of cardiovascular fitness.

You still have to do the work. Maybe a little less of it. Maybe as little as 72 minutes a week. That's right. You, too, can be fitter by giving up just over an hour of television watching a week. And you can spread that time over the week.

The study — published in the latest edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association — followed 464 sedentary, overweight, postmenopausal women with elevated blood pressure who were 57 years old, on average.

They were told to pedal as hard as they could on a stationary bike, so their fitness levels could be tested. They were then randomly split into four groups. Three of the groups were put on different six-month exercise programs - one group exercised for 72 minutes, another put in 136 minutes per week and the third did 192 minutes per week. The women in the fourth group did not exercise.

At the end of six months, the women who exercised for 72 minutes improved their fitness levels by 4 per cent. The women who exercised for 136 minutes improved by 6 per cent and the women who worked out for 192 minutes were 8 per cent fitter than when they started.

The researchers say the study "should be encouraging to sedentary adults who find it difficult to find the time for 150 minutes of activity per week, let alone 60 minutes per day." But they're not suggesting that health officials lower their recommendation that people should get about 150 minutes of exercise a week to help maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Seventy-two minutes. That's not a lot of time to find in even the busiest of schedules.