SAN FRANCISCO — Couch potatoes rejoice: A new study suggests that moderately paced, sustained activities promote weight loss more effectively than brief, high-intensity workouts based on the "no pain, no gain" mantra.
Walking, bicycling, even climbing stairs during TV commercials can contribute to weight loss if performed consistently, the researchers said. The activities can be as simple as parking at the far end of the mall and walking the long route to the store.
Other scientists said the finding is encouraging news for people who want to lose weight but are intimidated by the effort, commitment and expense often required at gyms and workouts conducted by personal trainers.
"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, published Thursday inthe journal Nature, shows the best way to boost metabolic rates is through moderate exercise coupled with shorter stints of inactivity throughout the day.
Klaas Westerterp of Maastricht University in 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.
In the study, Westerterp measured the amount of energy expended by using a device that records movement, reviewing activities recorded in participants' diaries and analyzing urine samples collected from ingested energy-measuring isotopes.
He found the time distributed between low and moderate intensity activities is ultimately what determined how many calories were burned. The metabolic responses to moderate exercise suggest it's physiologically beneficial, researchers said.
"All these little movements, they add up," Westerterp said.
The research is similar to 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.
For obese people, it's often 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.
Though experts caution 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, 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."