Exercise and Fitness

Exercise: You may need less than you think

Gregory Curfman, MD
Gregory Curfman, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Publications

Getting regular physical activity is one of the most important things one can do to protect and promote health, yet many people say they don’t have time to exercise. A recent study has confirmed that even a little exercise — just 8 to 15 minutes a day — reduced the risk of death. When it comes to exercise, some is always better than none.

Yoga for Better Sleep

Marlynn Wei, MD, JD
Marlynn Wei, MD, JD, Contributing Editor

Yoga is a gentle and restorative way to wind down your day. A national survey found that over 55% of people who did yoga found that it helped them get better sleep. Over 85% said yoga helped reduce stress. Dr. Marlynn Wei shares a bedtime yoga routine and explains how to use the breath to relax deeper into the poses.

The gender gap in sports injuries

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

For a variety of reasons, women are more prone to suffer many of the most common sports-related injuries than men are. This has led to some innovative approaches to prevent injuries among women in sports. Certain strategies, such as muscle conditioning, can help reduce the risk of some injuries. However, more research is needed to help close this particular gender gap.

Tai chi can improve life for people with chronic health conditions

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

Tai chi has become popular in the United States in recent years, thanks in part to growing evidence for its many health benefits. This ancient Chinese exercise not only improves balance and flexibility, it may prevent falls, ease pain, and even help your heart. A recent analysis of 33 studies of tai chi suggests that doing tai chi can help older adults with common, long-term health conditions move about more easily and enhance their quality of life. The quality of life improvements may stem from the meditative, mind-calming aspects of tai chi.

Bicycle injuries are mounting, especially in adults

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

These days, more and more adults bike to work, combining their daily workout with their daily commute, all while helping the environment. Unfortunately, biking is getting riskier. A study in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association found that, between 1998 and 2013, the rate of bike injuries rose by 28% and the rate of people admitted to the hospital because of bike injuries rose by 120%. People over 45 had the greatest increase in injuries. And the majority of bike accidents now happen on city streets. The good news is that you can help protect yourself by learning and following the rules of the road, staying alert, and keeping some common-sense safety tips in mind.

Can digital fitness trackers get you moving?

Heidi Godman
Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Study after study has shown that Americans don’t get enough activity. In fact, many of us don’t even get our recommended 10,000 steps a day. Could pedometers or digital fitness trackers help? Pedometers are simple gadgets that measure how many steps you take. Digital fitness trackers also measure the pace, distance, duration, and intensity of your activity, and often have accompanying web applications that can evaluate and even graph this information. In a small study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers gave either a standard pedometer or a Fitbit brand digital fitness tracker to 51 overweight postmenopausal women who had been getting about 33 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity. The pedometer group did not have any significant change to their activity levels. But the fitness tracker group increased their physical activity by an additional 38 minutes per week.

5 tips to make the Boston Marathon your marathon

Nancy Ferrari
Nancy Ferrari, Senior editor, Harvard Health

On Marathon Monday, thousands of runners will start in Hopkinton, Mass., and finish in Copley Square. Some will glide along, some will lope, and others will shuffle. No matter how they run, or how fast they run, running the Boston Marathon is something special. Here are a few tips to make the Boston Marathon your marathon. 1) Never wear something on marathon day you haven’t worn for a distance run before. 2) If family or friends will be watching you along the route, try to know in advance where they will be. 3. “The wall” is real so have a plan. 4. Try to take in the atmosphere. 5. Enjoy the camaraderie.

For joggers, less may be more

Gregory Curfman, MD
Gregory Curfman, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Publications

Jogging is one of those activities that seems to embody the concept of healthy physical activity. A new study from Denmark may prompt a rethinking of the benefits of strenuous jogging. Researchers with the ongoing Copenhagen City Heart Study found that, compared to healthy but inactive non-joggers, the death rate of light joggers was 90% lower. No surprise there. But the death rate for strenuous joggers was no different than that of sedentary non-joggers. In this study, the most beneficial exercise was jogging at a slow or moderate pace two to three times a week for a total of 60 to 145 minutes. This one study certainly shouldn’t change the current recommendations for physical activity. But it helps debunk the “no pain, no gain” myth of exercise and supports the idea that any activity is better than none—but there may be an upper limit.

Being part of a walking group yields wide-ranging health benefits

2 Minute Medicine®

If you are a sociable soul, here’s some interesting news about exercising with others: A study published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that being part of an outdoor walking group can improve health in many ways, including improvements in blood pressure, resting heart rate, total cholesterol, body weight, body fat, physical functioning, and risk of depression. In addition, people who were part of a walking group tended to keep exercising and not slack off. The findings are interesting because walking group participants reaped health benefits even though many of the groups did not meet international guidelines for moderate activity. This supports the idea that any activity is better than none.

Some exercise beats none; more is better

Howard LeWine, M.D.
Howard LeWine, M.D., Chief Medical Editor, Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

The standard recommendation for exercise is at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week. But that may not be the best recommendation for everyone, especially those who are older and have trouble exercising, or those who don’t exercise at all. If we think of exercise as a spectrum, with no activity on one end and 150 minutes or more a week on the other end, there’s a continuum in between. Getting individuals to move along that continuum, from no exercise to a little, a little to more, and so on, is an important goal. New research on the hazards of sitting for prolonged periods should get all of us to sit less and stand or move more.