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Exercise As a Cure for Fatigue and To Boost Energy Levels

Tired WomanWhen fatigue can no longer be blamed on winter hibernation, the cure may be as simple as to exercise, even if it's the last thing you feel like doing.

Researchers at the University of Georgia found that sedentary, otherwise healthy adults who engaged in as little as 20 minutes of low-to-moderate aerobic exercise, three days a week for six consecutive weeks, reported feeling less fatigued and more energized.

Findings that low-intensity exercise improves feelings of fatigue come as no surprise to Pete McCall, Exercise Physiologist at the American Council on Exercise.

"If a sedentary individual begins an exercise program it will enhance the blood flow carrying oxygen and nutrients to muscle tissue improving their ability to produce more energy (the chemical adenosine triphosphate)," McCall said.

While fatigue can be a symptom of various health problems, including serious conditions such as heart disease and cancer, research has reportedly shown that one in four people suffer from general fatigue that isn't due to a known medical condition.

The University of Georgia study, which appeared in the March 2008 issue of the Swiss medical journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatic, involved 36 sedentary healthy, young adults who reported persistent fatigue. The study called for a program of moderate-intensity exercise, low-intensity exercise or no exercise for six weeks. The moderate-intensity group was prescribed 20 minutes of exercise on an exercise bike comparable to a fast-paced walk up hills while the low-intensity group biked for the same duration and frequency, but at an intensity level equivalent to a leisurely walk, reported the New York Times newspaper on Feb. 29, 2008.

Both exercise groups experienced a 20 percent increase in energy levels by the end of the study compared to the non-exercising group; with the low-intensity group reporting a 65 percent drop in feelings of fatigue while the more intense exercisers reported a 49 percent drop in fatigue.

McCall noted that "the discrepancy between the low-intensity and moderate-intensity groups could be explained, because if the participants in the moderate-intensity group did not take the time to develop an aerobic base, then the higher rate of work might leave them feeling more physically drained."

The results of this study suggest that expending more energy during exercise doesn't necessarily translate into feeling more energized. At the same time, the scientists noted that higher energy levels in this formerly non-exercising group did not improve aerobic fitness.

Exercise Recommendations for Healthy Adults

To gain health and wellness benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services exercise guidelines, healthy adults need to engage in 2 ½ hours of weekly moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking or gardening.

For more physically fit adults, 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity, such as swimming laps, hiking uphill or race-walking can offer similar benefits in half the time. Sedentary people should consult their physician before engaging in vigorous physical activity.

McCalls recommendation: "A great option for exercise, as well as the environment, is to start cycling for both pleasure and for running errands or commuting to work."

He added, "Research indicates that most errands people run are within two miles of their homes, a distance that is easily covered on a bicycle. If people could begin cycling, then it will help them to exercise while at the same time reducing the amount of carbons in the air."

But even 10-minute bouts of heart-pumping activity are better than none at all. To regain lost muscle mass and strengthen weakening bones, which is part of the typical aging process, the experts also recommend that adults lift weights twice a week.

Considering that two-thirds of American adults are overweight and obese, exercising combined with a healthy diet can be a life-saver given the clear link between excessive weight gain and a heightened risk for serious chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure.

With only about 26 percent of U.S. adults engaging in vigorous leisure-time physical activity three or more times a week, the time to make a positive change toward a more active lifestyle by joining a local health club, the YMCA or JCC is now. Working out or engaging in recreational activities with friends and family is another great way to jump on the exercise bandwagon.

For the first time, Americans are raising children who may grow up even less healthy than their parents, because many are even more inactive than adults, preferring playing videogames and online social networking over exercise.

Yet, scientific evidence has shown that regular physical activity can do much more than cut feelings of fatigue and bolster overall well-being.

An expert panel gathered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that regular physical activity can cut risk of heart attacks and stroke by at least 20 percent and reduce the chance of early death.

With summer being just around the corner, this is the perfect time to start an exercise program to get energized, combat fatigue and lose a few extra pounds for those Kodak moments at the beach, summer parties and family reunions.

When people have a tough time with self motivation or staying on track, working with an ACE-certified Personal Trainer can help individuals establish appropriate goals, safely achieve meaningful results, and stick with their exercise programs.

This is what McCall tells his clients: "I want you to set a goal of making it to the gym at least three days a week. The first time you'll meet with me, so you need to find time in your schedule for two more workouts. At the onset of the program the most important consideration is to help you establish a habit of regular exercise. Once that pattern is established, the program can be tweaked to meet your specific goals.

He feels that personal trainers can teach clients how to make exercise a part of their daily routines.

"Even if they don't have time in their schedules on a particular day, I still want my clients to find activities, such as taking the stairs or parking in the spot farthest away from their destination, to help increase their daily activity levels," McCall said.

Chronic exercise beats chronic fatigue every time, he noted.

"The most important thing with starting an exercise program to combat fatigue is to establish a regular pattern of exercise (or chronic exercise as scientists in the exercise field like to call it)," McCall said.

Visit acefitness.org to find an ACE-certified Personal Trainer near you.


Marion Webb is the managing editor for the American Council on Exercise and an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and ACE-certified Group Fitness Instructor. For specific fitness-related story ideas or comments, please e-mail her directly at marion.webb@acefitness.org.


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