Want to get fit? No sweat!

Boomers recently received a wake-up call from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada: Get moving

An increasingly sedentary lifestyle is a ticking bomb for boomer’s heart health, said the report released earlier this year. More than half of boomers are inactive and nearly one-third obese. And while smoking rates had come down, one in five continues to smoke.

These lifestyle-related factors will almost certainly translate into big jumps in the rate of cardiovascular disease and stroke, according to Beth Abramson, a Toronto cardiologist and spokeswoman for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Getting in shape, however, can be daunting. For years, the prevailing fitness mantra was “No pain, no gain.” To be physically fit, you needed to go for a jog or sweat away hours in the gym. For many, maintaining such a rigorous exercise regimen was simply too hard, so people ended up doing nothing.

Now yet another doctor is challenging the assertion that you need an intensive exercise program to reap healthful benefits. In his new book,

The No-Sweat Exercise Plan: A Simple Way to Lose Weight and Improve Your Health</m> (McGraw-Hill, 2006), Harvey B. Simon argues that you can get enough exercise to stay healthy without ever breaking a sweat. Simon, a leading Harvard Medical School physician, backs up his premise with a number of studies showing the surprising benefits of moderate physical activity. He encourages readers to be healthy and lose weight through their day-to-day activities – and without necessarily having to buy a pair of gym shoes.

“You can reap enormous health benefits with no sweat exercise,” Dr. Simon told Newsweek. “Everything that gets you moving – from gardening to sex – can and will contribute to your health.”

Integrative exercise, in fact, has been called one of the hottest fitness trends for 2006 by The New York Times and Los Angeles Times. While health guidelines have generally suggested 30 to 60 minutes a day of exercise, new research indicates it may take far less effort to dramatically improve your health.

According to a study reported in the Journal of Medical Science and Exercise, most of the benefits of exercise are derived from the first 1,000 calories of increased activity each week, which reduced the risk of dying by 20 -30 per cent.

And the medical journal Diabetes Care showed that moderate exercise added nearly 2½ years to life expectancy for patients, compared with those who were sedentary, according to a report in The Washington Post. A 2004 report by Swedish researchers showed that older adults who exercised only once a week were 40 per cent less likely to die during the 12-year study period than those who did nothing.

“I regret preaching the doctrine of aerobics as I did for so many years,” says Simon. His 1987 book The Athlete Within urged readers to expend at least 2,000 calories a week exercising — about three to six hours a week of aerobic effort, depending on the activity. He now believes it takes about half of that amount to improve health.

For years data have been coming in that moderate exercise is good for cardiac health, obesity, diabetes and a host of other illnesses, says Simon. Moderate exercise is not a distant second, in terms of health benefits, to more intense workouts.

This is not to say that high intensity exercise isn’t beneficial, particularly for those in high-risk categories or with a strong family history of heart disease. The point is that high intensity exercise should be a choice that people make, not a necessity.

Moderate activities (burning 3.5 to 7 calories a minute) include:

• Walking the dog on a level surface;
• Playing instruments while moving;
• Singing while moving;
• Gardening — raking, leaf bagging, digging, using electric lawn mower;
• Scrubbing floors, cleaning windows;
• Carrying out bags of garbage;
• Washing the car.

Vigorous activities (burning 7 calories plus a minute) include:

• Pushing a manual lawn mower;
• Shovelling heavy loads or rapid digging;
• Heavy housework, moving furniture;
• Going up or down stairs with objects weighing 50lb or more;
• Carrying heavy bags of groceries;
• Robust play with children;
• Lifting a child of 25lb or more;
• Hand-sawing hard wood;
• Lying on your back and bench-pressing your grandchild.

(Source: TimesOnLine. Definitions of calorie burning activities from the American College of Sports Medicine and the US Centres for Disease Control.)