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Walking isn't enough to keep you fit, say experts

By Jeremy Laurance

Run, don't walk, if you want to maximise your chances of living a long and healthy life – and don't be misled by what the Government tells you, researchers say today.

In a direct challenge to the official advice that moderate exercise such as brisk walking is best for health, sports experts say guidelines are sending out the wrong message and must be changed.

A survey by researchers from the universities of Exeter and Brunel found more than half of men (56 per cent) and over two thirds of women (71 per cent) believe moderate activities, such as walking, are most beneficial for health, counter to the evidence.

Gary O'Donovan, exercise physiologist at the University of Exeter and lead author of the research, published in Preventive Medicine, said: "Time and time again, the largest and most robust studies have shown that vigorously active individuals live longer and enjoy a better quality of life than moderately active individuals and couch potatoes.

"It is extremely worrying that British adults believe that a brief stroll and a bit of gardening is enough to make them fit and healthy. The challenge now is to amend Britain's physical activity guidelines so that they emphasise the role vigorous activity plays in fighting obesity and disease."

Until the mid-1990s, official government advice was that all adults should spend at least 20 minutes three times a week engaged in vigorous exercise such as jogging. Surveys in the early 1990s showed that 90 per cent of adults believed this was best for health.

The advice was changed in 1995 to 30 minutes of moderate exercise on five days a week, more than doubling the time involved. Evidence shows moderate exercise is beneficial – but not as much as vigorous exercise.

Dr O'Donovan said: "One of the main reasons the change was made was to widen participation in exercise and make the targets more achievable. But it hasn't happened. The Health Survey for England shows physical activity levels have remained unchanged since the guidelines were introduced."

Figures show 30 per cent of women and 40 per cent of men say they meet current guidelines by doing 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, five times a week.

How much exercise is enough to stay healthy?

Experts recommend adults expend 400 calories a day in order to avoid gaining weight.

Approximate time it takes to burn 400 calories:

* Light to moderate activities: dusting and cleaning, 114 mins; vacuuming or mopping, 82 mins; walking briskly, 75 mins; cycling at 10mph, 71 mins; golf (walking and pulling clubs), 66 mins; mowing the lawn, 63 mins.

* Vigorous activities: tennis (doubles), 48 mins; badminton (competitive singles), 41 mins; circuit training or jogging at 5mph, 36 mins; swimming or run- ning at 6mph, 29 mins; cycling at 16-19mph, 24 mins; running at 8mph, 21 mins.

Table courtesy of Dr Gary O'Donovan, University of Exeter. * Heavier individuals will expend 400 calories in less time. For example, a 95kg adult could burn 400 calories while walking for 63mins or jogging for 34 mins

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