Longer Workouts or More Frequent Workouts?
Getting in shape is a numbers game. You add up the calories you eat; subtract the calories you burn through exercise while dividing your workouts into manageable blocks of time throughout a week.
It's the last part, the time part that so many people have a problem with. In an effort to save time, some people are spending longer exercising during a workout, but working out fewer days a week.
Instead of six 45-minute sessions they're compressing the workout into three 90-minute sessions. It's the same amount of time, so theoretically it should provide the same benefit, right?
First there's the mental reason. Every day you workout, it's a reminder that the rest of the day you should be careful of what you're eating and drinking. If you've just finished a cardio session, you're less likely to binge on junk food and undo the work you just did. Working out three days a week gives you three reminders, while six days a week gives you twice the reminders.
Then there's the calendar reason. It may be tough to maintain a schedule of working out six days a week. Emergencies happen, schedules can be interrupted; plenty of things can interfere with good intentions. If you set a goal of working out six days a week and you miss a day, it will have less of an impact than if you only plan on three days and miss one. Plan on six and you can feel satisfied with five. Plan on three and you don't have an option to miss a day.
The medical reason most workout sessions shouldn't last more than an hour is a matter of energy. Activities like weight lifting use glycogen or stored glucose as the major source of fuel. After 45 to 60 minutes most people have exhausted their bodies energy and working out longer doesn't significantly improve health. (Marathoner's and people engaged in ultra-endurance races will need to train longer, but that's only when training for a specific activity or event, not overall health.)
Now for the weird math reason. If two people worked out exactly the same amount of time, let's say 4.5 hours per week, how they divide their workouts up determines who burns more calories. Lets look at the numbers.
PERSON A is working out for three sessions a week, 90 minutes per session. If Person A is using a universal type machine, on average they will burn 8 calories per minute for a total of 720 calories per 90-minute session. But that's assuming they're burning calories at an even rate over the entire workout. In reality, workout intensity declines as a workout progresses. That means if Person A would burn 360 calories in the first 45 minutes, they might only burn 300 calories in the second 45 minutes, for a total of 660 calories per session. Multiply that by three sessions and Person A burn a total of 1980 calories a week.
PERSON B, who does six workout sessions for 45 minutes per session, burns 360 calories per session. Person B burns a total of 2160 calories per week or 180 more calories than Person A. Although Person B's working out for the same TOTAL amount of time as PERSON A, Person B can maintain a higher intensity during each workout because each session isn't as long.
The federal government has made its recommendation as well. In January of 2005 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a report simply called, Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In that report it said, "To help manage body weight and prevent gradual, unhealthy body weight gain in adulthood: Engage in approximately 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity activity on most days of the week while not exceeding caloric intake requirements." Researchers found that Americans weren't exercising nearly enough and the previous guidelines weren't sufficient. Nothing less than an hour a day is the current suggestion.
If all this seems a little overwhelming, think about ways you can be more active in your daily life. Walk to work or ride a bike. Take stairs instead of the elevator. Enroll in a dance class or try yoga. Hire a personal trainer to put together a workout program and motivate you. When you get off work, take a walk instead of sitting in front of the TV.
Start with small goals such as, "I will take a walk three days a week for the first month." If you're having trouble getting motivated, ask a friend or family member to join you. Slowly increase your goals as time goes on.
You've got to make your life a priority. People who exercise regularly are healthier, look better and live longer than people who don't. And is there anybody out there who doesn't want to look better?
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