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Internet could help encourage exercise

People who spend their days in front of a computer may want to check out some fitness-related websites, according to a study published Monday.

Researchers found that Internet-based exercise programs worked as well as printed advice in getting sedentary adults to take up regular physical activity. One year into the study, the Internet users were getting 80 to 90 minutes of exercise each week.

The findings are important, say the study authors, because they suggest that millions of sedentary Americans could be reached through one of the modern conveniences blamed for keeping them chair-bound.

"In 2006, 147 million American adults were Internet users," lead study author Dr. Bess H. Marcus said in a statement.

"If sedentary individuals are at least as likely as active individuals to use the Internet, this means roughly 80 million under-active adults are online and might be reached via web-based interventions," said Marcus, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University Medical School in Providence, Rhode Island.

She and her colleagues report their findings in the current issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The study included 249 sedentary adults who were randomly assigned to one of three groups. One group used a website developed by the researchers to support participants' exercise efforts. A second group was provided with links to six websites run by professional medical and fitness organisations. The third group received printed materials by mail.

Participants in all of the groups kept daily activity logs and completed questionnaires designed to keep them on track with their exercise regimens. The difference was that the group using the specially tailored website got immediate email feedback.

One year later, all three groups were doing similarly well, Marcus and her colleagues found. Those who used the tailored website were getting an average of 90 minutes of exercise per week, as were men and women in the group that received help by mail.

Study participants who used a website program they picked out were getting 80 minutes of exercise per week, on average.

In general, experts recommend that adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, on most days of the week.

According to Marcus's team, more studies should investigate the power of the Internet to reach the legions of inactive Americans sitting in front of a computer screen.

Source: Archives of Internal Medicine, May 14, 2007.

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