Did you Make the Move?

Eight weeks ago, the Lean Plate Club challenged members -- particularly sedentary ones who have long avoided ambitious exercise programs -- to begin taking a single two-minute walk daily to boost physical activity with so-called lifestyle exercise. (And by the way, the beauty of this challenge is that it's never to late to start, so read on.) Over the weeks, those two-minute walks were gradually increased to eight per day for a total of 16 minutes of low-intensity exercise.

Yeah, yeah, 16 minutes, big deal, we can hear you saying. What's that going to do?

Studies suggest that short bouts of exercise deliver big health benefits. In fact, recent research finds that three 10-minute walks daily are equal in benefits to 30 minutes of sustained walking. There's enough evidence to suggest that these brief bouts of exercise may be just the thing to help counteract the trend to "engineer physical activity out of daily life," according to Steven Blair, CEO of the Cooper Institute in Dallas and co-author of "Active Living Every Day" (Human Kinetics; $21.95).

Even if you work out at the gym daily or jog or bike religiously, odds are that there are still 23 or so hours a day when you're pretty sedentary. The goal of the Make the Move Challenge is to increase daily lifestyle exercises -- from taking the stairs to walking to errands. It's also one way to prepare to tackle some slightly more ambitious activity regimen now that spring is here. It will also burn a few more calories -- as well as clear your head and relieve stress -- during the day even if you're already doing regular workouts.

Whether you took the challenge or not, here some tips to keep in mind as you continue to look for more ways to boost daily physical activity. (Find out more about Make the Move at www.washingtonpost.com/; click on "Health," then on "Lean Plate Club.")

Identify real -- vs. perceived -- barriers to physical activity. Everybody gets the same 168 hours a week. So how come a small percentage finds time to be active while 75 percent of Americans don't? Studies suggest that people who succeed at staying active set "smart" goals, according to Deborah Young, professor of kinesiology at the University of Maryland, College Park. That means they established specific, measurable actions that are realistic and time-oriented. (E.g.: Today I will take a two-minute stroll around my office every hour.)

If you walk, set a reasonable pace. Yes, you can burn a few more calories walking fast, but that doesn't necessarily result in long-term success. A recent study by University of Florida researchers found that moderate-intensity -- not brisk -- walking paid off with the greatest adherence at the six-month mark in a group of 379 sedentary, middle-aged, overweight men and women. In fact, those randomly assigned to brisk walking were least likely to adhere to physical activity, which translated to less total exercise.

But do it regularly. The University of Florida study randomly assigned participants to walk a total of 30 minutes a day for either three to four days per week or for five to seven days per week. The higher-frequency group not only got more total exercise, but also adhered to activity over six months better than the group that walked just three to four times per week.

Find a physical activity you enjoy. Doing so boosts your chance of being and staying active. In March, researchers reported in Health Psychology on a survey of 1,332 Australian adults that examined barriers against, enjoyment of and preferences for exercise. People who said they liked walking were three times more likely to walk for more than 21/2 hours per week than those who didn't. Participants who enjoyed structured physical activity -- taking an exercise class, for example -- were twice as likely to get adequate amounts of weekly exercise, the study found. No matter what the type of exercise, the researchers reported that "enjoyment of physical activity was a significant predictor of participation."

-- Sally Squires

Share Your Tips or ask questions about healthy nutrition and activity when Sally Squires hosts the Lean Plate Club online chat, from 1 to 2 p.m. today, on www.washingtonpost.com. New To The Club? The Lean Plate Club is devoted to healthy eating and boosting activity. To learn more or to subscribe to our free e-newsletter, visit www.washingtonpost.com/leanplateclub.