Preparing healthy food takes away exercise time, study reports

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The keys to good health are eating right, and exercising regularly. But Americans who do more of the one tend to do less of the other, a study at Ohio State University indicates.

Adults who spend 10 minutes more preparing food on a particular day are likely to reduce the amount of time they spend exercising that day by about 10 minutes, researchers for OSU's College of Public Health discovered.

For their study, the researchers examined data from the American Time Use Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. They analyzed responses from 112,037 adults on surveys between 2003 and 2010.

Both men and women, whether single or married, with or without children, were likely to cut exercise time to accommodate additional time for food preparation, the researchers found.

Women reported spending an average of 44 minutes a day on food preparation. Men reported spending just 17 minutes.

The average time spent exercising was 19 minutes for men and 9 minutes for women. But just 16 percent of men and 12 percent of women reported exercising at all on that particular day. So, on average, the men who said they exercised did so for slightly more than an hour and a half, and the women who said they exercised did so for slightly less than that.

In its Physical Activity Guidelines, the U.S. government recommends adults get an average of 150 minutes a week (22 minutes a day) of moderate aerobic exercise such as walking, or 75 minutes a week (11 minutes a day) of more vigorous exercise such as jogging, and perform strength building exercises such as pushups or weightlifting at least twice a week.

Women, on average, reported spending just 53 minutes a day on both food preparation and exercise, men just 36 minutes.

The American Time Use Survey is a snapshot of a particular day, noted Rachel Tumin, a doctoral student in epidemiology and the lead researcher. It's possible some may do extensive meal planning and preparation on one day to free up more time for exercise later in the week, she said.

But if most Americans are going to spend less than an hour a day on both food preparation and exercise, how should they utilize their time to keep from cannibalizing one healthy behavior for the other?

"Eating right and moving enough are equally important," said Leslie Bonci, director of the Sports Nutrition Program at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine. If you plan a little, you don't have to spend a lot of time on food preparation.

If you buy a rotisserie chicken and serve it with salad, cut-up fruit and ready-to-serve brown rice, you have a healthy meal that takes only about five minutes to prepare, she said.

Crockpots can help you utililize your time efficiently, Ms. Bonci said. "Put ingredients on to cook in the morning, get the workout in and then come home to eat."

Have a "cooking marathon" where you make soup, stew or chili for several meals. Or while you're cooking, "curl an iron skillet or two," she suggests as a weightlifting exercise.

People should cut back on the time they spend watching television before they reduce either the time they spend on meal preparation or exercise, said Betsy Blazek-O'Neill, medical director of the integrated medicine program at Allegheny General Hospital.

"People really have to think about their priorities," she said.

For those who are pressed for time, there are simple ways to put more exercise into their daily routines, Dr. Blazek-O'Neill said.

"At work, take the stairs instead of the elevator," she said. When you go to work or are out running errands, "park a little farther away and walk" to your destination.

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Jack Kelly: or 412-263-1476.


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