Decisions, Decisions: Work Out or Fix a Meal?

FRIDAY April 12, 2013 -- Preparing meals can mean less time for exercise, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed U.S. Census data from more than 112,000 American adults and found that a 10-minute increase in meal preparation was associated with a lower likelihood of exercising for 10 more minutes.

The finding was true for men and women, single and married people, and those with and without children, according to the Ohio State University researchers.

They said their findings suggest that one healthy behavior can take time away from another healthy habit, and that public health recommendations need to take into account the time people have for beneficial lifestyle habits on a given day.

"If we assume, for example, that adults have 45 minutes of free time to allocate to health-promoting behaviors, maybe we need to look at that holistically and determine the optimal way to use that time," study lead author Rachel Tumin, a doctoral student in epidemiology in the College of Public Health at Ohio State University, said in a university news release.

Tumin and her colleagues found that 16 percent of men and 12 percent of women said they had exercised the previous day. The average amount of time spent exercising was 19 minutes for men and 9 minutes for women.

The average amount of time spent preparing meals that day was about 17 minutes for men and 44 minutes for women.

Overall, men and women spent an average of less than an hour on both meal preparation and exercise on the same day, according to the study, scheduled for presentation Friday at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, in New Orleans.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

"There's only so much time in a day. As people try to meet their health goals, there's a possibility that spending time on one healthy behavior is going to come at the expense of the other," Tumin said. "I think this highlights the need to always consider the trade-off between ideal and feasible time use for positive health behaviors."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about healthy living.

Posted: April 2013


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