Dr. Mark Stengler


Sometimes, less is more — and that can even be true when it comes to exercise, especially if you’re just getting started.

lungeJust like you can’t expect your car to go from zero to 80 in just a few seconds (unless you have a much better car than I do), don’t expect to transform yourself from a couch potato into a gym rat overnight.

That could actually backfire on you. (Now that sounds more like a few of the cars I’ve owned over the years.)

In one new study, sedentary senior women put on a six-day workout program actually did no better over four months than sedentary senior women given either a two-day or four-day regimen instead.

And by one important measure, the women who got the most exercise actually did worse.

By most measures, however, women in all three groups had the same basic improvements in fitness. They all had better strength and more endurance, and they all saw drops in levels of body fat despite making no dietary changes.

The only real difference was in how many calories they burned each day. You know how it is — the more you burn, the more weight and fat you’ll lose.

In this all-important category, the biggest benefit went to women on the four-day plan. By the end of the study, they were burning an extra 225 calories a day, not counting the calories burned during the exercise itself.

The women who worked out twice a week burned an extra 100 calories a day.

But women who were on the six-day plan went in the opposite direction: They actually held on to an extra 200 calories a day.

Why? The study doesn’t specifically answer that question, but I think they were just plum beat.

The women who worked out two and four times a week told researchers they were feeling so good they made other changes, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking further away. I bet they ate healthier too.

The women on the six-day plan, however, didn’t report exhaustion — but they showed signs of being tuckered out and pressed for time. They were actually more likely to drive instead of walking and less likely to use the stairs.

So overall, I still think it’s important to exercise or at least get some physical activity six days a week. But if you’re just starting out after years of a sedentary lifestyle, don’t wear yourself out by overdoing it.

Start with a three- or four-day plan and gradually work your way up instead.

And for more on the benefits of regular exercise — especially for men — keep reading.