Exercise: When Less is More

Eat More, Exercise Less

Posted January 15, 2017 at 7:00PM

With the summer months coming to a close and the days shortening, daily activity and exercise become even more important. No longer do the weather and late sunsets welcome us outside, easily allowing us to engage in sports, activities, and exercise.

Motivation now takes over as the key to physical activity, especially during the cold winter months, when it sometimes becomes difficult even to leave the house...

Exercise: When adherence becomes the key

Data shows that even though most people fail at being exceedingly active, we still understand the benefits of exercise.1 Along these lines, few need convincing about the merits of exercise. Yet, this knowledge still has little effect on our commitment to remaining active. In other words, we all know how good exercise is for the body, but this still does not get most of us outside or into the gym.

Telling people to exercise more does not work very well. In fact, it does not work at all!2 People need tangible methods to increase their exercise habits. They need exercise activities that they enjoy, that give results, and that they are able to follow.

The question then is not how do we push the benefits of exercise, but how do we motivate people to exercise more? Telling people to eat less does not seem to work, either.3 Between diet and exercise, it remains pretty clear that people want results and physicians want adherence. Luckily, the two may not be that far apart.

Intense exercise regimens: More bang for your buck

Recent trials have explored adherence rates in different exercise regimens to help pick apart those that people can follow and those that people cannot. A somewhat recent trial randomized subjects to either a short-bout exercise group or a long-bout exercise group.

The short bout group exercised several times a day for no more than 10 minutes, while the other group exercised for 20-40 minutes in a single session. While this is an extreme example of short bouts of intense exercise, this study has its merits. The short group lost more weight and had greater adherence to their prescribed exercise regimen.4 In our current ADD-ridden society perhaps even with exercise, short and sweet are the keys to success. This also leaves the possibility of fitting an exercise session into one of several small windows that open up throughout the day.

Another study showed the effectiveness of a workout consisting of short bursts of intense activity, followed by rest. This strategy is called high-intensity aerobic interval training,5 also known as HIIT. Similar to sprinting or heavy weight training, HIIT training has become more appealing over endurance training or prolonged exercise like jogging. The periods of intense activity followed by rest are often more preferable to the grind and tear of endurance exercise.

Results from this study revealed fat loss along with increased ability of the body and skeletal muscle to burn fat. If the study above showed that quick is preferable for most people, perhaps quick, intense, and with a little resistance is the best bet.

The same type of workouts also significantly decrease inflammation and inflammatory markers, including IL-6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha,6 two important factors associated with cancer7 and many other diseases. Keeping these inflammatory factors in check helps to keep the immune system strong.

If my grandmother could do it, so can I…

Many people resist the push to engage in more intense exercise programs due to concerns with resistance and weight training. Many people even use the excuse “I don’t want to gain too much muscle” (don’t worry this rarely happens…). Perhaps they should pay attention to the following study.

Ten frail, ninety-year-old volunteers were placed on a high-intensity resistance training protocol for eight weeks. Nine subjects completed the protocol, and the authors found that lean muscle mass correlated with strength gains, which was not much of a surprise. However, they also found that these women experienced strength gains of 174%! These women also increased their walking speed by 50%, while greatly increasing their mobility.8

If a group of ninety-year-olds can engage in high intensity resistance training, adherence should be much easier in those half this age…

As the cold, gloomy, and dark winter months approach us, finding the motivation to increase activity and exercise habits becomes more important than ever. Perhaps this winter, frequent short and intense trips to the gym may be the best way to increase your activity levels to help stay healthy, fight stress, and keep your immune system strong through the bitter cold.

To Your Health,


Dr. Colin Champ

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Dr. Colin Champ is a practicing radiation oncologist and nutritional expert. He is the author of Misguided Medicine: The truth behind ill-advised medical recommendations and how to take health back into your hands”. 


1. Lawlor DA, Keen S, Neal RD. Increasing population levels of physical activity through primary care: GPs’ knowledge, attitudes and self-reported practice. Fam. Pract. 1999;16(3):250-254. doi:10.1093/fampra/16.3.250.

2. Burke LE, Dunbar-Jacob J. Adherence to medication, diet, and activity recommendations: from assessment to maintenance. J. Cardiovasc. Nurs. 1995;9(2):62-79. Available at: http://ukpmc.ac.uk/abstract/MED/9197995.

3. Bautista-Castano I, Molina-Cabrillana J, Montoya-Alonso JA, Serra-Majem L. Variables predictive of adherence to diet and physical activity recommendations in the treatment of obesity and overweight, in a group of Spanish subjects. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 2004;28(5):697-705. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/sj.ijo.0802602.

4. Jakicic JM, Wing RR, Butler BA, Robertson RJ. Prescribing exercise in multiple short bouts versus one continuous bout: effects on adherence, cardiorespiratory fitness, and weight loss in overweight women. Int. J. Obes. Relat. Metab. Disord. 1995;19(12):893-901. Available at: http://ukpmc.ac.uk/abstract/MED/8963358.

5. Talanian JL, Galloway SDR, Heigenhauser GJF, Bonen A, Spriet LL. Two weeks of high-intensity aerobic interval training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women. J. Appl. Physiol. 2007;102(4):1439-1447. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01098.2006.

6. Leggate M, Carter WG, Evans MJC, Vennard RA, Sribala-Sundaram S, Nimmo MA. Determination of inflammatory and prominent proteomic changes in plasma and adipose tissue after high-intensity intermittent training in overweight and obese males. J. Appl. Physiol. 2012;112(8):1353-1360. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.01080.2011.

7. Coussens LM, Werb Z. Inflammation and cancer. Nature 2002;420(6917):860-867. doi:10.1038/nature01322.

8. Fiatarone MA, Marks EC, Ryan ND, Meredith CN, Lipsitz LA, Evans WJ. High-Intensity Strength Training in Nonagenarians. JAMA J. Am. Med. Assoc. 1990;263(22):3029-3034. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03440220053029.


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