Business of Well-being

The Science Behind the Benefits of Moderate Exercise

1. What suggestions do you have for someone who doesn't exercise because of lack of time on how to fit a moderate workout into their day?

I always suggest something like what we do at my own workplace. We encourage very small breaks (which can add up!). Maybe it is a ten minute walk around your workplace, a few times a day when you have breaks. You could also take small weights and hold them while climbing a few flights of stairs. The key is to start gradually.

Also, people need to be prepared to exercise when they have time. So, this means having a pair of exercise shoes ready and available at work or at home to encourage you to get moving. Pedometers and good music are also terrific motivators.

2. Are there any new findings in regard to exercise and its benefits?

One key finding is that bouts of physical activity in 10-minute segments can help individuals achieve health benefits. The recent physical activity guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services are the most substantial piece of guidance that we can give Americans about different forms of physical activity. For instance, for adults aged 18-64, the guidelines are as follows (REFERENCE:

  • Adults should do 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. Aerobic activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes, preferably spread throughout the week.
  • Additional health benefits are provided by increasing to 5 hours (300 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, or 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both.
  • Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups performed on 2 or more days per week.

3. Are there any unexpected benefits to exercising moderately?

Yes, for instance, The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute created an innovative program aimed at combating stress  and increasing physical activity by encouraging employees to be more physically active, even in short bursts. Dubbed "Take 10 Rooms," these resources are equipped with recumbent bikes, elliptical cross-trainers, resistance bands, small weights, mats, and flat-screen TVs.

Employees are encouraged to take one or two 10- to 15-minute breaks a day for physical activity. The institute has three of Take 10 Rooms. A team of researchers from the Translational Research Branch Translational Medicine Branch of NHLBI hypothesized that a sedentary work force is at increased risk for future cardiovascular disease.

They looked at the effects of staff engaging in a 15-minute-per-day exercise program at these work-site exercise facilities at NIH on the endothelium, the thin layer of cells that line blood vessels that is a biomarker of risk. They found that even in the absence of weight loss, relatively brief periods of exercise daily during the workday improved endothelial function.

4. Is moderate exercise on a regular basis enough to boost one's health?

Yes, we think so. There are numerous studies that test for potential benefits of moderate exercise, some study relatively healthy individuals and others explore different populations who are trying to regain their health. For instance, in a study at Southern Illinois University, their intervention among women breast cancer survivors found that there were sustained improvements in physical activity, strength, central adiposity, and social well-being with lower extremity function benefits appearing 3 months after intervention completion.  

At Harvard Medical School, researchers found that with patients with stable heart failure, exercise training can relieve symptoms, improve exercise capacity and quality of life, as well as reduce hospitalization and, to some extent, risk of mortality. Thus, if we can see benefits of moderate exercise in people who are recovering from disease, we might see even greater possibility in those of us who are mostly well.

5. What is the main reason your patients (employees/clients) cite for not exercising on a regular basis?

Time is the biggest barrier for people. They always tell me they just don't have enough time during the day to workout. We try to remind people that they don't need huge chunks of time to maintain a good level of health. 10 minutes at a time, even for a simple walk, can really add up. If people can set realistic goals for taking mini-exercise breaks throughout the day, they would likely see a change in their mood and energy levels.

6. Is there something I should have asked you that I didn't, or something related that you would like to make a comment about?

We always encourage people to start small and to set realistic goals. Achieving better health starts slowly, particularly if we are not already in the habit of exercising. If people who have not exercised before start with small increments of walking or taking the stairs, these are habits that are much more likely to be incorporated into one's lifestyle, rather than larger exercise sessions that might fade away if our lives become too busy.


A good resource for people wanting to increase their level of physical activity is NHLBI's Guide to Physical Activity and Your Heart, It can be downloaded free or ordered ($3.50) from this Web site (

About the Author

Rachel Permuth-Levine, PhD, MSPH, is a public health practitioner and an expert in worksite health promotion. As a health behavior theorist, she strives to use evidence-based programs that produce the best results for her employees. Rachel is also a yoga and fitness instructor.

Anna Konger is the Assistant Editor of the Corporate Wellness Magazine and can be reached at

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