Tune In to Exercise During Commercials
By Steve Cline
Reaching for your toes instead of the remote is one key to better health.
Linda Buch doesn't believe people who say they have no time to work out.
"These are the same people who never miss an episode of their favorite sitcom," says Ms. Buch. A certified personal trainer, she's co-author of "The Commercial Break Workout," one of several books on exercises you can do in front of the tube.
Reaching for your toes instead of the remote is one key to better health. A recent Harvard University study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that television might be harder on your health than you think.
Women who watched television more than 10 hours a week were far more likely to be obese and develop type 2 diabetes, according to the study, which tracked 68,000 women from 1992 to 1998. The authors concluded that nearly a third of the obesity cases could have been prevented if the women had watched television less than 10 hours a week and walked at least 30 minutes a day.
The study shows that "all sedentary activities may not be equally bad," says Mary Hardy, M.D., medical director of the Cedar-Sinai Integrative Medicine Program. "TV watching seems to be the most pernicious of the sedentary activities." Here's why:
TV viewing is even more passive than other sedentary acts like office work.
We often eat high-calorie foods as we watch TV.
Watching TV can become part of our daily routine.
"A lot of people just want to come home from work and sit in front of the TV and veg out," Dr. Hardy says. "One hour turns into three, and it's really easy to fall into a situation where inactivity begets more inactivity."
To help TV addicts, Ms. Buch and co-author Seth Anne Snider-Copley devised a set of stretching, calisthenics and light aerobics meant for the 2-1/2- to 3-minute periods filled by television ads.
"All those little bitty increments add up," Ms. Buch says. "During an hour of TV there are 20 minutes of commercials. Twenty minutes of exercise is more than a lot of people get each day."
Pushing the limit
Can you really get a workout that raises your heart rate in the time a carmaker uses to pitch its latest model?
"I don't know if you've ever tried to do push-ups for a solid minute, but it's really difficult," says Stewart Smith, author of "The TV Watcher's Workout." "Most people peter out after 15 or 20 seconds."
Like "The Commercial Break Workout," the routines in Mr. Smith's book need no special equipment and include workouts for all fitness levels. A former Navy SEAL, Mr. Smith wrote his book for his parents after they rebuffed his pleas to shape up.
"Fitness has always been a part of my life, and I was frustrated that it wasn't a part of their lives," he says. "I had to find a way to fit fitness into their schedule."
Mr. Smith and Ms. Buch agree that working out in front of the TV won't get you ready for a triathlon. But any movement is a positive step, especially if you haven't been active at all.
This is even more true for children and young adults, who are more likely than ever to be obese. Television, video games and dwindling physical activity play a major role in childhood weight gain.
"After you realize that you actually feel better after exercising a little, you might want to do more," Mr. Smith says. "Maybe you go outside for a walk or a bicycle ride."
Get with the program
Dr. Hardy offers this TV guide:
Don't eat while you watch television. You'll tend to wolf down unhealthy snack foods and ignore portions.
If you want to work out while you watch, don't wait for commercial breaks. Ride an exercise bike or walk on a treadmill as you watch.
Ideally, the time you exercise should equal or exceed your TV time. If you can't swing that, try to watch less than an hour of TV a day.
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