How often you must exercise?

Although exercise is important, but is it better to do a little every day, or a lot a few times a week?

New research indicates a little bit of daily activity could well be the most beneficial approach, at least for muscle strength.

Studies continue to suggest very manageable amounts of exercise done regularly can have a real effect on people’s strength.

“People think they have to do a lengthy session of resistance training in the gym, but that’s not the case,” said Ken Nosaka, Exercise and Sports Science Professor from Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Australia.

“Just lowering a heavy dumbbell slowly once or six times a day is enough,” Nosaka said.

The team from ECU collaborated with Niigata University and Nishi Kyushu University in Japan for a four-week training study where three groups of participants performed an arm resistance exercise and changes in muscle strength.

Their muscle thickness were measured and compared.

The exercise consisted of ‘maximal voluntary eccentric bicep contractions’ performed on a machine which measures muscle strength in each muscle contraction you would do at the gym.

An eccentric contraction is when the muscle is lengthening; in this case, like lowering a heavy dumbbell in a bicep curl.

Two groups performed 30 contractions per week, with one group doing six contractions a day for five days a week (6×5 group), while the other crammed all 30 into a single day, once a week (30×1 group).

Another group only performed six contractions one day a week.

After four weeks, the group doing 30 contractions in a single day did not show any increase in muscle strength, although muscle thickness (an indicator of increase in muscle size) increased 5.8 per cent.

The group doing six contractions once a week did not show any changes in muscle strength and muscle thickness.

However, the 6×5 group saw significant increases in muscle strength – more than 10 per cent – with an increase in muscle thickness similar to the 30×1 group.

“Muscle strength is important to our health. This could help prevent a decrease in muscle mass and strength with ageing,” Nosaka said.

“A decrease in muscle mass is a cause of many chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, some cancers, dementia, plus musculoskeletal problems such as osteoporosis,” Nosaka said in the paper published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports

Further, Nosaka said there needed to be more emphasis on the importance of making exercise a daily activity, rather than hitting a weekly minute goal.

“If you’re just going to the gym once a week, it’s not as effective as doing a bit of exercise every day at home,” he said.

“This research, together with our previous study, suggests the importance of accumulating a small amount of exercise a week, than just spending hours exercising once a week,” Nosaka noted.

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