Harvard Men's Health Watch

Medical memo: A little at a time: Eating and exercising in bits and pieces

Medical memo

A little at a time: Eating and exercising in bits and pieces

It's hard to ignore advice from experts. For years, nutritionists (and mothers) have made three square meals the gold standard for healthy eating. Likewise, physiologists (and coaches) have advocated regular exercise for optimal fitness. But in today's busy world, it can be hard for a guy to sit down for three meals or to stay moving for 30 straight minutes. Is there another way?

Possibly. New research suggests that frequent small meals can be nutritionally sound and that frequent short periods of exercise can add up to fitness and health. It may not be better, but it is different.

First, eating — or grazing, as the pattern is called. Over the years, scientists have observed that when animals are allowed to nibble, they have lower cholesterol levels than when they are encouraged to gorge, even though their total food consumption is the same. Experiments on humans have produced similar findings, but the studies were brief and involved small numbers of volunteers who were given test meals in a research setting. Now, though, a study from Great Britain suggests that people in the real world may get similar results. More than 14,500 individuals between the ages of 45 and 75 volunteered for this study. Each filled out a detailed questionnaire that asked for information on the frequency of eating, the type and amounts of the foods consumed, exercise patterns, and other health habits. Each volunteer gave a blood specimen, and each was weighed and measured.

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