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Researchers have previously suggested that 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week is needed for people to maintain their general health. But for weight loss and prevention of regaining weight, it has been suggested that perhaps between 150 to 300 minutes of physical activity per week is required.

One of the main challenges for overweight clients who wish to lose weight is their compliance with the amount of physical activity required achieve weight loss.

Studies have suggested that intermittent physical activity may offer additional health benefits beyond weight loss, such as improved cardiovascular fitness and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Acknowledging this, researchers sought to understand how intermittent activity impacted on weight loss and body fat compared with continuous exercise.

Study design
This trial included 45 non-smoking women, aged 20-45, with a body mass index of more than 25, with no history of regular exercise and stable weight over the previous six months.

Each participant was randomly assigned to one of three groups
1) intermittent group: three bouts of moderate intensity exercise, with a gap of more than 4 hours between bouts (totalling 40 minutes of exercise per day), 5 days per week,
2) continuous group: a single block of 40 minutes per day of moderate intensity exercise, 5 days per week
3) control group: no prescribed activity program

Activity guidelines
Participants were explained a number of measures of activity effort. They were instructed to undertake brisk walking at between 64-76% of their maximum heart rate.

Nutritional guidelines
A restricted diet, 500 calories less than the daily energy expenditure for each person was also provided to all participants. The macronutrient breakdown was:
• 45-65% carbohydrate
• 15-20% protein
• 20-35% fat
At the start of the trial, and at 6 and 12 weeks, participants were asked to recall their intake during the previous 24 hours. If the intake was significantly out of alignment, counselling was provided to assist participants to move closer to the recommended approach.

During the study, 31% of starting participants did not complete the intervention. This rate is comparable with other similar weight loss intervention studies and did not affect the final results.

After 12 weeks, participants in the intermittent group lost significantly more weight (-3.33kg compared with -1.23kg) and also saw statistically significant reductions in body mass index.

What does this mean for your weight loss clients?
What this study shows is that together with a dietary intervention that reduces intake by 500 calories per day, moderate intensity intermittent exercise for more than 150 minutes per week is more effective than the same amount of continuous exercise for weight loss.

Alizadeh, Z., Kordi, R., Rostami, M., Mansournia, M. A., Hosseinzadeh-Attar, S. M. J., & Fallah, J. (2013). Comparison Between the Effects of Continuous and Intermittent Aerobic Exercise on Weight Loss and Body Fat Percentage in Overweight and Obese Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial. International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 4(8), 881–888.

What kind of results have you seen in clients who engage in intermittent activity? Do you think it achieves better results?