New Research Offers Achievable Approach to New Year’s Resolution to Exercise MoreChristie McElhinney Jan 1, 2019
By Christie McElhinney
Who hasn’t resolved to exercise more in the new year? Yet many of us find it tough to get started or to stick with a regular exercise routine. Long hours at work, family demands, clogged commutes, and other daily challenges chip away at our resolve and limit time to fit in a workout. Don’t give up though, says Amy Huebschmann, MD, who studies barriers to exercise with support from the Center for Women’s Health Research at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. “There’s good reason to give this resolution another chance in 2019.
Until recently, we believed at least 10 minutes of exercise in a row was required to achieve health benefits, but new research has shown that all movement counts,” Huebschmann said. Her research, which aligns with the recently released 2018 Physical Activities Guidelines for Americans, tells us that just a few minutes of physical activity several times a day can make a difference. “Exercise can seem overwhelming or intimidating to some people, but when we break it down to simply ‘move more’ we can reimagine exercise as doing things we have time for and enjoy, like taking a walk with a friend. The number one barrier that people cite for not being active is too little time and limited free time impacts women more than men because they typically take on a greater share of household responsibilities.
The biggest difference in the new guidelines is the recommendation to move more and sit less throughout the day. Evidence shows a strong relationship between sedentary behavior and increased risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, which are the leading causes of death in the U.S. for both women and men,” said Judy Regensteiner, PhD, Director of the Center for Women’s Health Research. Regensteiner served as a lead researcher for the first set of Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2008. “Ten years later, we understand even better that all physical activity, especially moderate-to-vigorous intensity activity, has health benefits.
The guidelines recommend 150 minutes of exercise per week for adults and 300 minutes per week for children. Even if achieved through brief episodes of physical activity lasting only 2-3 minutes at a time, this amount of exercise can help to prevent eight types of cancer, reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and depression, while also improving bone health and quality of life
A clinical trial* being conducted by Dr. Huebschmann helped to improve life for Mike and Yon Kramer of Aurora. Mike, who jokes that he became a ‘chairborne ranger’ after retiring from the police force, says he and his wife Yon both have more energy and better health after beginning – and sticking with – an exercise program introduced to them through Huebschmann’s study. Yon, who has type 2 diabetes, was invited to participate in this study that examines ways for people with diabetes to overcome challenges to regularly engaging in physical activities. She agreed to participate if Mike could also be a part of the study; he too has diabetes and supports Yon whose native language is Korean. Yon’s support for Mike is a big deal, too. “I probably would not have stuck with this without Yon,” he said.
Social support is an important motivational factor for many people, Huebschmann said. “Some observations we have made in this study and other studies are that women especially tend to enjoy physical activities that allow them to be active with family members and friends, and men tend to appreciate being able to do things they haven’t been able to do for a while due to diminished health,” Huebschmann said.
Through continuing research, says Regensteiner, the Center for Women’s Health Research is working to identify more and better ways to help people move past barriers to regular exercise. “Some barriers are individual health challenges,” she said. “For example, we know that it’s more difficult for women with diabetes to exercise than it is for men who are also affected by this disease. Other challenges are socio-demographic factors like safe places to easily and affordably exercise. Whatever the challenge, we want to help find ways for people to be active in ways that work for them. We know people will do things that they enjoy and value, and that regular physical activity can be lifesaving.
Now 10 months into her new habit of physical activity, Yon has seen a big drop in her blood sugar levels and both she and Mike have significantly improved A1C counts, a test that measures how well blood sugars are controlled. “We have been so inspired by our work with Dr. Huebschmann that we would follow her anywhere,” Mike said.
They are sharing their enthusiasm with others too. “Instead of sitting in the waiting room at the hospital recently,” Mike said, “Yon and I walked the halls until it was time for our appointment. Three ladies we kept passing on our laps around the hallways asked what we were doing and joined us on our walk, learning how we track our steps on a mobile app, and vowing to keep it going. Our neighbors also noticed us out walking every day and wanted to learn more. Now our neighbors often join us and we walk together.
Set your physical activity goals for the new year by keeping these ideas in mind: Start simple and identify activities you enjoy and are likely to stick with over time. Track your movements, from short bursts to longer bouts, fitting them in as your schedule allows with the goal of reaching at least 150 minutes each week. Consider using a mobile app or a pedometer/fitness tracker for tracking.
Make some of your physical activities social, finding ways to move together with friends or family members.
Pay attention to immediate health benefits that you notice to increase your motivation and talk with your doctor about ways she or he can support your physical activity goals. Dr. Amy Huebschmann and study participant Glenda Wells-Evans talks with Kathy Walsh CBS News 4 health reporter. Watch the video. Learn more about research being conducted by the Center for Women’s Health Research and the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
* The Center for Women's Health Research has launched the careers of Dr. Huebschmann and more than 65 researchers who seek to improve knowledge about women’s health and sex differences particularly in diabetes, cardiovascular health, and the intersection of physical and mental health. This study by Dr. Huebschmann was funded by the National Institutes of Health and will complete enrollment of 50 participants in January 2019. Half of the participants, including Yon and Mike, received a physical activity coaching program to help them gradually increase their physical activity levels and the other half of participants were given a handout explaining the physical activity guidelines but did not receive coaching. To date, the group that received coaching has demonstrated clinically important benefits in terms of physical activity as well as physical function, which are linked to better quality of life and lower health risks.