Feb. 2-8, 2001
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Glenn Gaesser
Rebecca Arrington
Glenn Gaesser demonstrates aerobic activity on a stationary bicycle in the exercise physiology lab in Memorial Gym.

U.Va. researcher studies and promotes realistic exercise plan

Staff Report

What if a body -- anybody -- only had to exercise regularly for 10 minutes at a time to achieve and sustain cardiovascular health, strength, flexibility, weight and vitality? That's just what U.Va. exercise physiologist Glenn Gaesser proposes in his new book, The Spark: The Revolutionary 3-Week Fitness Plan That Changes Everything You Know About Exercise, Weight Control, and Health, co-written with Karla Dougherty and published by Simon & Schuster.

Quick, vigorous bursts of exercise for a duration of 10 minutes, done 15 times a week, bring the same total health and fitness benefits as a solid hour in the gym three days a week -- with measurable results in just three weeks, he says. "That is a concrete, thoroughly documented, scientifically and medically sound guarantee," says Gaesser, who continues to study the benefits of this new approach with U.Va. students and employees.

Gaesser explains precisely why "sparking" works, stressing that the body starts burning fat during the very first minute of exercise. He offers an alternative to the time-consuming traditional fitness formula decreed by the American College of Sports Medicine in 1998, which advises exercise at heart-pounding, sweat-inducing intensity for 20 minutes to a full hour, three to five days a week, plus spending days off lifting weights and squeezing in a hour somewhere for stretching. This grueling workout regimen has made millions feel defeated -- or too intimidated to even attempt it, the authors say.

Although Gaesser, a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, co-authored the fitness regimen, he realized soon afterward that it was an unrealistic expectation for many people working full-time at sedentary jobs. Having studied athletes, such as long-distance runners and swimmers, who divide their rigorous workouts into shorter segments, he decided to adapt that idea for non-athletes. He put together a new plan to see if short bouts of physical activity could provide the same health benefits. His study showed results in just three weeks: a 10 to 15 percent improvement in aerobic fitness among middle-aged men and women; an increase in strength and muscular endurance from 40 percent to 100 percent; and a 15-point drop in total cholesterol -- even higher for high-risk participants.

"The Spark"The "Spark" program comprises seven to 10 aerobic, two to four strength-training and two to four flexibility sessions per week, each for 10 minutes. In addition to describing and depicting a range of exercises, the book offers ways to improve attitudes about food and fitness and provides a high-fiber, high-energy food plan, reflecting the way people really eat -- without counting calories.

The author of Big Fat Lies: The Truth About Your Weight and Your Health, Gaesser debunks the popular notion of a diet loaded with protein as the surest route to weight loss. He supports research that has found that foods rich in complex carbohydrates -- bagels, pretzels, and pasta, as well as beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables -- hold the secret to slimming down and lowering serious health risks. The authors also offer three weeks' worth of sample menus, including recipes.

The book aims to help individuals make the commitment to improving their health and feeling good about it. Filled with testimony from "Spark" converts, it also includes Dougherty's story of making the remarkable transition from couch potato to marathon bicyclist at the age of 50.


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