TIME Exercise/Fitness

6 Ways a TV Binge Affects Your Body

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And how to fight each one

When a major show releases an entire season at once—we’re looking at you, House of Cards—it’s hard to resist devouring it all over a single weekend. And you probably won’t be alone: According to a 2014 poll by research firm Miner & Co Studio, 70% of U.S. television watchers self-identified as binge-viewers.

But before you settle in, let’s talk about what a TV binge can do to your body. You know that a habit of sitting for prolonged periods has been linked to everything from obesity to early death, but you may wonder: What harm can one or two lazy days really do?

Well, let’s just say there are some good reasons to try to split up your TV or movie binge.

“Even one long television session can certainly cause some immediate side effects,” says John P. Higgins, MD, associate professor of cardiology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and a certified personal trainer. “And the more you do it, the more you’ll be at risk for longer-term problems.”

Here are all the ways your body is affected while you binge-watch, plus how to fight each one.

Your appetite

Watching television often goes hand in hand with mindless overeating and unhealthy snacking, Dr. Higgins says, and watching episode after episode can make that worse. “You probably don’t want to stop for an hour to cook yourself a healthy meal, so you order pizza or fast food, or you snack on junk food the whole time.” And if you think that one bad-for-you dinner can’t hurt, think again: A 2012 study from the University of Montreal found that a single meal high in saturated fat can can damage arteries and restrict blood flow in the body. Furthermore, watching high-paced, action-oriented programs also triggers more distracted eating than less stimulating news or talk shows, according to a 2014 study by Cornell University.

Simply seeing characters eat on TV may make you consume more calories, Dr. Higgins adds, just as watching them drink alcohol may trigger you to crave a cocktail, or seeing them smoke (ahem, Frank and Claire) may tempt smokers to light up.

Fight it: Prep healthy food in advance
Make a healthy meal before you indulge in one (or more) episodes, and have pre-portioned healthy snacks (think popcorn or almonds) at the ready.

Read more: 20 Snacks That Burn Fat

Your muscles

It’s unlikely that you’ll gain five pounds or sabotage your fitness goals in one sitting, but spending all day on your butt can have more immediate consequences, including stiffness, back pain, and muscle cramps.

Fight it: Watch on the go
Download the Netflix app, so you can watch from your phone or tablet on the treadmill, stationary bike, or—Frank’s personal favorite—the rowing machine. At the very least, you should take a stand and stretch break between each episode.

Read more: 15-Minute Workout: Get Total-Body Toned

Your mood

A recent study by University of Texas at Austin researchers found that binge-watching is linked with feelings of depression and loneliness. People often try to lose themselves in TV to distract themselves from their negative feelings, the authors say, but often they’re unable to stop—even when they know they are neglecting work and relationships. Spending a whole weekend watching TV may also cause feelings regret and guilt, says psychiatrist Grant Brenner, MD, adjunct assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, but those are usually temporary.

For viewers with pre-existing mental health conditions, however, a binge session may have bigger consequences. “Perhaps they’re in a vulnerable state and the material triggers a negative reaction—such as activating trauma or amplifying irrational beliefs of some sort,” Dr. Brenner says.

Speaking of trauma, House of Cards has some dark subject matter. “Being exposed to any sufficiently intense or resonant emotionally-laden experience can potentially affect a person’s disposition and outlook,” Dr. Brenner adds, at least for a few days.

Fight it: Watch with friends
You need to talk to someone about Frank and Claire, and why that thing that was so crazy was just. So. Crazy!

Read more: 12 Worst Habits For Your Mental Health

Your sleep

And not just the sleep you lose by watching straight through the night (you probably already know you shouldn’t do that); it’s possible that your shut-eye schedule in the days after your binge session could be affected as well, Dr. Higgins says. “If you watch in a dark room with a lack of sunlight it can screw up your circadian rhythm and disrupt sleep-wake cycles.” On top of that, research suggests that the blue light emitted from televisions, computers, and smartphones can impair the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps promote sleep. (Not to mention, it can cause headaches and eye strain.)

Fight it: Avoid a binge that’s too close to bedtime
You need at least an hour away from the blue light to appropriately wind down. Also: watching on a screen that’s close to your face may have the biggest impact, so be sure you really “sit back” and relax.

Read more: 10 Sleep Compatibility Problems, Solved

Your circulation

Staying in one position for too long can contribute to deep vein thrombosis and the formation of potentially fatal blood clots, even in otherwise active individuals. “I’ve seen young healthy people who have been lying around all day surfing the web or watching movies get blood clots,” Dr. Higgins says. “When you’re watching TV, you may be moving your hands a bit but usually your feet are just lying there.”

Fight it: Get up at least every 30 minutes
“It’s another important reason to get up every 30 minutes or so, even if it’s just to stand and pump the calves and keep the blood flowing,” Dr. Higgins says.

Read more: How to Prevent a Blood Clot

Your metabolism

Studies show that spending long periods of time in a chair or on a couch do slow metabolism and cause the body to store more fat, which can lead to a slow, steady weight gain. Plus, you’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: prolonged sitting has been linked to certain cancers, diabetes, disability, and heart disease—and the more time people spend watching TV, the more likely they are to die prematurely. In many cases, these associations hold true even if you’re getting the recommended amount of exercise during the day.

Fight it: Don’t make it a habit
Thankfully, it’s not every week that Netflix releases an addicting show.

Read more: 6 Ways to Sit Less Every Day

The bottom line

There are ways to make the occasional marathon TV session healthier. “If you decide you’re going to watch five episodes in one day rather than one episodes every night of the week—and you use that hour each night to work out when wouldn’t otherwise—you can treat a weekend binge as a reward,” Dr. Higgins says.

Brenner agrees. “For a lot of folks, binge-watching might be a form of relaxing ‘stay-cation,’ especially if it is viewed as a valuable recreational experience and not as an excessive indulgence,” he says. “As with most things, moderation is the key to avoiding problems.”

Read more: 5 Ways To Make Your Netflix Binge A Little Healthier

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

How to Get Kids to Exercise More

Getting children to encourage their peers to exercise may be the best way to inspire kids to stay more active, according to new research presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association. The finding introduces a wrinkle in current recommendations that parents play a key role in encouraging children to exercise.

“For a child to be active, they have to really enjoy the activity,” says Stephen Daniels, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “We have to find activities they like and settings that promote activity, so this really helps us understand how to do that and emphasizes the fact that having friends involved can be a big motivator.”

The study, which relied on interviews of more than 100 children of various ages, found that kids enjoyed working out more when they did it with friends. Children also got over typical excuses, like not having the right equipment or not being good at, when accompanied by their friends. Though children clearly like exercising with friends, less than half of kids actually do it, according to the study.

Of course, encouragement to exercise by peers only worked if the peers were, in fact, encouraging. If you’re not picking the right peer group, it could backfire in a way,” Daniels says. “I think finding kids and friends who will be non-judgmental who really are there for the fun of the activity and not there to criticize, etc. is an important part of this.”

Overall, the study found that feeling self-conscious, low enjoyment, health concerns, a lack of self-discipline and a lack of energy were the most common impediments to children’s exercise.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

The Best Workout for Weight Loss

Why intensity matters in exercise

Everyone knows that cardio exercise—by way of a bike ride or a sprint—is key to weight loss. But a high-intensity cardio workout may do a better job of decreasing blood sugar levels than lower intensity exercise, according to a new study in Annals of Internal Medicine.

The study assigned 300 obese people to a group: one that exercised with low intensity for long periods of time or another that engaged in high-intensity workouts for short durations. By the end of six months, people in both groups experienced similar levels of weight loss. But those who had exercised with higher intensities saw reduced two-hour glucose levels, a key measure for predicting conditions like heart disease and stroke. People in the high-intensity group saw a 9% improvement in glucose tolerance, compared to a negligible change in people who took part in low-intensity exercise.

Increasing the intensity of a workout isn’t beyond the reach of most exercisers, according to lead study author Robert Ross, a researcher at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. “Higher intensity can be achieved simply by increasing the incline while walking on a treadmill or walking at a brisker pace,” Ross says.

Read more: This Is How Much Exercise Experts Think You Really Need

Still, while high-intensity exercise may have some unique health benefits, the study showed that any exercise is better than none. People who exercised lost 5-6% of their body weight, a 4- to 5-centimeter reduction in waist size.

The study challenges the way public health officials tend to think about the health benefits of exercise. Health organizations often issue guidelines based on time spent exercising. Instead, the study suggests, health officials should consider intensity as well.

Read more: The 50 Healthiest Foods of All Time

Read next: The Best Workout Move You’re Not Doing

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6 Rules for Post-Workout Meals

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An ideal recovery meal goes beyond protein

As a sports nutritionist, I consult for pro teams and privately counsel professional and competitive athletes in numerous sports, as well as fitness enthusiasts. Pros and weekend warriors definitely have different nutrition needs, but they do have one thing in common: In order to get the most out of being active, everyone needs to eat properly to help their bodies recover from the wear and tear of exercise.

Here are six rules to follow, and how to prevent overdoing it, which can cancel out the weight-loss benefits of breaking a sweat.

Eat within 30 to 60 minutes after exercise

If you’ve had a particularly tough workout, try to eat a “recovery” meal as soon as possible. Exercise puts stress on your muscles, joints, and bones, and your body “uses up” nutrients during workouts. Post-exercise foods are all about putting back what you’ve lost and providing the raw materials needed for repair and healing. In fact, it’s the recovery from exercise that really allows you to see results in terms of building strength, endurance and lean muscle tissue. Not recovering properly can leave you weaker as you go into your next workout and up your injury risk.

Think beyond protein

Protein is a building block of muscle, so it is important after exercise, but an ideal recovery meal should also include good fat (also needed for healing muscles and joints), as well as plenty of nutrient-rich produce and a healthy source of starch such as quinoa, sweet potato or beans. These foods replenish nutrients that have been depleted and provide energy to fuel your post-exercise metabolism. A great post-workout meal might be something like a smoothie made with either pea protein powder or grass-fed organic whey protein, whipped with fruit, leafy greens, almond butter or coconut oil, and oats or quinoa, or an omelet made with one whole organic egg and three whites, paired with veggies, avocado and black beans.

Read more: 14 Ways to Add Quinoa to Your Diet

Keep it real

The phrase “You are what you eat” couldn’t be more true. Nutrients from the foods you eat food are the foundation of the structure, function, and integrity of every one of your cells. Your body is continuously repairing, healing and rebuilding itself, and how healthy your new cells are is directly determined by how well you’ve been eating. In short, your body is essentially one big miraculous construction site that’s open 24/7. So even if you’re lean and you burn a lot of calories, avoiding highly processed food and eating a clean, nutrient rich, whole foods diet can help you get the most out of all of your hard work. You’ll be rewarded with cells that function better and are less susceptible to premature aging, injury, and disease.

Read more: 5 Reasons to Eat Healthier That Have Nothing to Do With Your Weight

Don’t overcompensate

If weight loss is one of your goals, it’s important to not overestimate how much extra food you “earned” working out. In fact, it’s incredibly easy to eat back all of what you’ve burned. For example, in a one-hour elliptical session, an average woman burns about 490 calories. A large salted caramel Pinkberry contains 444 calories, and a 32 ounce high-protein pineapple smoothie from Smoothie King clocks in at 500 calories. Even if you don’t splurge on treats like these, you may be tempted to sneak a little extra almond butter or be less mindful of your oatmeal or fruit portions. Those extras can add up. And if you’re going to be eating a meal within an hour of finishing up a workout, you don’t also need a post-exercise bar or snack. For more about how to prevent unwanted surpluses from interfering with your goals, check out my previous post Help! Why Can’t I Lose Weight with Exercise.

Read more: 11 Ways to Stop Overeating After Your Workouts

Rehydrate

If you sweat heavily, exercise in high humidity (which prevents cooling of the body), or your workouts last longer than 60 minutes, you probably need a sports drink rather than plain water during exercise. These beverages are designed to keep you well hydrated, but they also provide electrolytes to replace those lost in your sweat (like sodium, which makes sweat salty, and potassium, which helps regulate heart rhythm), as well as fuel to keep you going. If your workouts are less strenuous, shorter, climate-controlled or not so sweaty, plain H2O is probably fine. The general rule of thumb is to drink at least two cups of fluid two hours before exercise, another two cups 15 minutes prior, and a half-cup every 15 minutes during. Post exercise, aim for two cups of water (16 ounces) for every pound of body weight lost, and monitor the color of your urine—if you’re well hydrated it should be pale.

Read more: 15 Foods That Help You Stay Hydrated

Watch your alcohol intake

Many athletes and active people I work with enjoy imbibing a bit after working out. Alcohol in moderation is fine, but be sure to eat first to start the recovery process. Also, it’s important to know that alcohol has been shown to accelerate post-exercise muscle loss and the loss of muscle strength by as much as 40%. It can also interfere with replenishing glycogen, the storage form of carbohydrates you stock away in your muscles to serve as energy “piggy banks.” Less glycogen can translate into a lack of power or endurance during your next workout, so aim for moderation.

Read more: 7 Ways to Keep Alcohol From Wrecking Your Diet

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: 3 Breakfast Rules to Follow to Lose Weight

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Even a Little Bit of Physical Activity Can Help the Heart

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A little activity goes a long way, even for the elderly who may have mobility problems

Most exercise recommendations include several sessions of moderate to vigorous activity each week, but not all adults are physically up to the task.

There’s a lot of back and forth among experts on just how much activity people need to enjoy health benefits, and whether it’s the intensity of exercise or the amount that matters. That’s especially important for older people who are more likely to have issues with mobility but are also at higher risk of heart disease and other problems that physical activity can help. For them, is even a little more movement enough, or do they need to reach a certain threshold, which for many is unrealistic?

MORE: When Exercise Does More Harm Than Good

To find out, Thomas Buford, assistant professor of aging and geriatric research at the University of Florida College of Medicine, reports in the Journal of the American Heart Association on a study involving 1,170 older adults ages 74 to 84 who had some limits on their mobility. Each participant wore an accelerometer to record their daily amount of physical activity, and the scientists calculated each person’s risk of having heart events like heart attacks or stroke based on established risk factors like age, cholesterol, blood pressure and smoking status.

As expected, they found that those who were sedentary, or logged the least counts on their accelerometers, had the highest risk of having a heart event in the next 10 years. But to Buford’s surprise, the group that incorporated just a little bit more activity — such as moving around the house, doing chores and the like — showed lower risk than the sedentary group.

MORE: It Doesn’t Matter How Much You Exercise if You Also Do This

That’s encouraging, since it suggests that even a little more movement during the day can contribute to better health and lower risk of heart-related problems. “These are what we would consider really low-level activities, but they did seem to have an influence,” says Buford. “When you look at older adults, particularly those with mobility challenges, to give them a recommendation to do 30 minutes of walking three to four times a week when they have trouble getting to their mailbox can be daunting. Here we can say that even low-level activities can be helpful.”

Part of that benefit may be coming from the fact that if the people in the study were moving, that means they weren’t sitting. There’s growing evidence that sitting itself may have adverse effects on the heart and body independent of activity. Brain signals during sitting, for example, may influence the way the body burns energy. In the current study, Buford wasn’t able to determine if the benefits from the slightly more active seniors came from sitting less, but he plans to study that relationship in a follow-up study in which one group of people will be assigned an exercise regimen and the other will not.

MORE: Sitting Is Killing You

Buford is reluctant to use the word exercise to describe the activity that seemed to benefit those who moved a little more in his study, since the mobility was really minimal and not structured in any way. But avoiding the E word might actually help motivate older adults to get up and move. “A lot of people may feel that it’s too late, or maybe too difficult to exercise, but even activities that are barely above being sedentary can help,” Buford says. “It’s never too late to incorporate these things, and we shouldn’t underestimate the potential health benefit that incorporating more light activity into the day might have.”

TIME Exercise/Fitness

Exercise May Prevent Depression—Not Just Alleviate It

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Women who keep exercising into midlife can prevent depression, a new study suggests

Getting a decent amount of exercise may be one way to prevent depression symptoms, according to a new study.

Prior research has shown that exercise is a non-invasive way to curb depression, but fewer studies have looked at whether exercising can actually prevent the emergence of depressive symptoms. In a new study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers showed that physical activity may give women an extra edge in warding off depression that can sometimes come with aging and worsening health.

The researchers looked 10 years’ worth of data from 2,891 women between ages 42 and 52, who filled out questionnaires about their depressive symptoms and levels of physical activity. They found that the women who were meeting public health recommendations for physical activity—150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise—reported fewer depressive symptoms. The more physical activity the women said they did, the less likely they were to have signs of depression.

“Given the high prevalence of depression in the United States, particularly for women, exercise is still not considered a first-line treatment option, even though exercise can be of low cost and low risk, can be sustained indefinitely, and has additional benefits for multiple aspects of physical health and physical function,” the authors write in the study. “Our findings suggest that motivating midlife women to maintain at least some level of moderate-intensity physical activity may be protective against depressive symptoms, with some activity better than inactivity.”

TIME Exercise/Fitness

Here’s the Minimum Exercise You Need for Maximum Results

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Finally, some good news for fitness minimalists

It doesn’t take much: women who exercise a few times a week have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and blood clots compared to women who didn’t exercise at all, finds a new study published in the journal Circulation.

About one million women in England and Scotland, who were an average age of 56, reported their physical activity starting in 1998 and were followed for up to a decade. Researchers from the University of Oxford in the U.K. analyzed how much and how hard the women exercised, along with their incidence of heart disease, stroke and blood clots.

Interestingly, the women who exercised more did not necessarily lower their risk of heart-related problems. There seemed to be a threshold, or magic number after which the benefits started to decline. They found the biggest difference in risk of heart disease between the women who did some activity versus none, which should be a comfort to anyone daunted by the prospect of an intense exercise routine.

But the interesting patterns emerged when they looked more closely at how much exercise was enough to keep the women’s health risks low. Among those opting for moderate exercise, which included activities like walking, gardening and even housework, the benefits seemed to peak at 4-6 sessions a week. For women who did strenuous exercise, the kind that caused sweating and a fast heart beat, 2-3 times a week was best—it reduced their risk by about 20% compared to those who rarely or never exercised.

Exercising strenuously more than three times a week was associated with increased vascular risk, which echoes the findings of another recent report that found pushing your body too hard can undo the benefits of exercise.

MORE This Is How Much Exercise Experts Think You Really Need

The authors stress, however that the average middle-aged woman isn’t in any danger of over-exercising. “Activities may not necessarily need to be sports or exercise at the gym, because even everyday activities such as gardening and walking were associated with significantly lower risks in these women,” says lead study author Miranda Armstrong, a physical activity epidemiologist at the University of Oxford.

In an editorial published in the same journal, Rachel Huxley, professor at the University of Queensland in Australia, points out that about 25% of the women in the study smoked. Though the authors controlled for the effects of smoking on heart disease, they acknowledge that smoking may have contributed to the higher rates of vascular risk they found among heavy exercisers. And only 3% of the sample of women said they engaged in such strenuous exercise, so that data involves far fewer women.

The message for most of us is this: it doesn’t take much physical activity to start reaping its health benefits. “These findings may offer some hope—and even perhaps a dash of inspiration—to the estimated 30% of adults worldwide who struggle to achieve the recommended levels of physical activity,” Huxley writes.

Read next: 7 Reasons Why You’re Working Out and Still Not Losing Weight

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Free Phone Apps Count Steps As Accurately As Pricy Fitness Bands

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As a new generation of tech tracks physical activity more accurately, the key will be in motivating users to keep going

You don’t need a specialized fitness monitor to track how far you walk each day. Step and activity tracking apps are multiplying to take advantage of movement sensors already inside smartphones. But can these free apps track step counts as well as a $99 bracelet monitor?

Yes, according to a new study published in JAMA. With more than half of Americans carrying smartphones—versus about 1 percent wearing specialized activity trackers such as those made by Fitbit or Jawbone—researchers think tapping into these apps could help many more people get active.

For the study, researchers outfitted 14 healthy adult volunteers with 10 different tracking methods: smartphones in each pocket running four different apps, three belt-clip pedometers and three wrist-based fitness bands. Each tech-laden volunteer then walked on a treadmill while researchers manually counted their steps.

“Most of these devices are accurate,” says Mitesh Patel, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Pearlman School of Medicine and coauthor of the new report. He and his colleagues hope the “findings help reinforce individuals’ trust in using smartphone applications and wearable devices,” they note in the paper.

But not all trackers reported identical results. The biggest outlier was Nike’s Fuelband, which tended to count fewer steps (as much as 20 percent less) than were actually taken. The iPhone 5’s Moves app was more likely to report additional steps. Closest to the accurate number were the pedometers Fitbit One and Fitbit Zip.

Despite these slight differences, Patel says, “if someone wants to know whether they’re active, these [all] do the job.”

Tripping up trackers

Pedometers, which clip onto the waistband at the hip, have been the gold standard for accurately counting steps both in and out of the lab, says Greg Welk, an associate professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, who was not involved in the new study. But these pods failed to really catch on with consumers.

When companies began moving the counters to more familiar zones—like the wrist, via bracelets and watches—and integrating more information, user-friendly interfaces and more social sharing, millions more people signed on.

The integration of step counters into smartphone apps represents an even bigger opportunity to make activity monitoring more widespread. And in Patel’s small study, the apps actually outperformed wrist-based trackers in accuracy. That finding, however, might be due to the fact that volunteers wore the phones in their pants pockets, close to the hips where stride movements are more distinct than they are on the wrist. In the real world, of course, smartphones are not shoved into a pocket and ignored all day.

Which gets to a big problem in this research, which “still doesn’t answer the question of how accurate these things are in the setting where they are meant to be used,” says Ray Browning, associate professor in Colorado State University’s health and exercise science department. That is, outside of slow, deliberate treadmill walking. In the case of the smartphone, he wonders, will apps measure steps as accurately if the phone is carried in a bag, in hand for typing or up to the ear for talking? Patel agrees that his findings are limited: “We don’t know what’s going to happen when people get out in the real world and move around.”

And for many people, walking is not their only daily activity. “The challenge really is when people are doing things other than walking,” Browning says. Many current step trackers will miss exercise from a bike ride, yoga, gardening or elliptical trainers, he notes.

Motivation to move

The broader goal of step counters is to help people be more active. An element of quantification—and competition—might the first step in helping someone choose to walk to a nearby restaurant for lunch rather than drive, Browning says.

While trackers dial up their accuracy, motivation is becoming the next frontier. “We’re still trying to figure out how to transfer [activity data] into long-term behavior change,” Browning says. Improvements could come in the form of more engaging platforms, different types of competitions, financial incentives from employers, doctor referrals or well-timed text messages. Ideas from behavioral economics, for example, could help people get and stay motivated, Patel and his colleagues noted in a JAMA op-ed last week.

Despite small variances in steps counted, if you stick with one monitor, it is likely going to be consistent to you, says Welk, whose 2014 paper on wearable fitness monitors examined discrepancies in calorie estimates. Reflecting relative changes in your activity and behavior, he says, is the real power of these tools.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

When Exercise Does More Harm than Good

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A new study shows that running too much can be just as unhealthy as not being active at all

Americans as a whole don’t exercise enough—at least that’s what the latest studies show—and so the message is clear: get more active, take walks, Let’s Move! Basically anything is better than sitting on the couch. But how much exercise is enough? That’s a hotly debated question for which experts still don’t have a satisfactory answer. But given that most of us are starting from a sedentary position, the assumption has long been the more the better.

But in a report published Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology researchers from Denmark say that people who push their bodies too hard may essentially undo the benefit of exercise. Those who ran at a fast pace more than four hours a week for more than three days a week had about the same risk of dying during the study’s 12-year follow up as those who were sedentary and hardly exercised at all. The link held even after the researchers accounted for potentially confounding factors such as age, sex, whether the participants had a history of heart disease or diabetes, or whether they smoked and drank alcohol.

MORE This Is How Much Exercise Experts Really Think You Need

In fact, those with the lowest risk of dying during the study period were people who ran less than three times a week for one to 2.4 hours, at a slow to moderate pace. Even people who ran slightly more, for 2.5 hours to four hours a week at an average pace less than three times a week, showed slightly higher mortality risk, at 66%, something that came as a surprise to the authors.

“I would expect the light joggers to have really low risk,” says Jacob Marott, a researcher at the Copenhagen City Heart Study at Frederiksberg Hospital and one of the study’s co-authors. “But regarding the moderate joggers, I was a little surprised they didn’t have a bigger benefit from jogging than the light joggers. It made me think that if it’s really true, then exercise recommendations should take that into account.”

MORE It Doesn’t Matter How Much You Exercise If You Also Do This

What Marott and his team found was that both too little running and too much running are linked to higher rates of death. The most intense runners ended up with a risk of dying that was similar to that of those who opted to stay on the couch. Somewhere in between is the Goldilocks amount that’s just right to maintain heart health, burn off excess calories and keep blood sugar levels under control. And according to his results, that sweet spot is closer to the ‘less’ side of the curve than the ‘more’ side.

That dovetails with the mounting research that so-called micro-workouts—high intensity but brief workouts that could be as short at 1 minute, according to another recent paper—may be better for the body than long and continuous workouts.

That still means that some exercise is better than no exercise, but scientists may be getting more sophisticated about understanding that more isn’t always better, and that there may be a tipping point at which the harms of running start to outweighed its benefits.

Those negative effects might include things like changes in the structure and function of the heart and its vessels; previous studies showed that marathoners and long distance cyclists, for example, tend to be at higher risk of developing abnormal heart rhythms, and may be more vulnerable to enlarged hearts, which are less efficient at pumping blood and delivering oxygen and removing waste than normal-sized organs.

MORE Short Bursts of Exercise Are Better Than Exercising Nonstop

Marott acknowledges that it’s also possible that some other behaviors or factors common to avid runners, such as their exposure to the sun, which can increase their risk of skin cancer, might be explaining their higher risk of dying during the study. Other studies will have to investigate whether that’s the case, but in the meantime, Marott says “if you want to do something good for yourself, you don’t have to be extreme. Jogging one to four hours a week for no more than three days a week at a slow to moderate pace is actually achievable. And that’s a positive take-home message.”

Read next: 7 Reasons Why You’re Working Out and Still Not Losing Weight

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7 Reasons Why You’re Working Out and Still Not Losing Weight

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Diet and exercise don't tell the whole story

Do you eat well, exercise often, and still feel like you’re not losing that stubborn weight? Truth is, eating well and exercising often is a very relative and general statement. If we’re honest with ourselves, I’m sure we could admit that we’re all capable of trying a little harder in both areas.

Total-body wellness is a lifestyle. Fat loss happens when you ditch the scale, find an activity you enjoy, and start to see food as fuel instead of something to feed your emotions or occupy your time.

No matter who you are or what your background is, chances are one of these 7 reasons could be why you’re not shedding pounds.

HEALTH.COM: 11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

You’re eating wrong foods

If you’re not losing weight, the first place you should be looking is the kitchen. Some people focus all their energy on burning off calories that they don’t take the time to consider what they’re putting in as fuel. Diet is at least 80% of the battle. While the exact foods you should be eating depend heavily on your body type, metabolism, and other factors, a good rule of thumb is to stick to all natural, whole foods.

Eat most of your starchy carbohydrates (like potatoes, brown rice, grains) on days when you do strength training or more rigorous exercise. On your rest days or when you’re doing light cardio, try to stick to just protein and veggies and not a lot of those starchy foods. Avoid excess bread, sugar, and anything else that’s processed. Look for foods that have the fewest ingredients on the label—if you can’t pronounce it, it’s probably not something you want to be putting in your body.

You’re eating too much

If you’ve already cleaned up your diet big time and you’re still not losing weight, it may be that you’re simply eating too much. In order to shed pounds your body needs to run a calorie deficit, meaning you need to burn more than you consume. That being said, you shouldn’t have to deprive yourself either. Life is about balance. Don’t become consumed with counting calories or weighing yourself every day.

Eat whenever you’re hungry and eat slowly enough so you can stop just before you get full. Healthy snacking during the day will keep you from overeating during meals. I always carry a few Kind Bars in my bag, because they’re a great snack made with whole foods, and have nothing artificial. And don’t be afraid to give yourself ‘healthy’ cheats, like a few chocolate-covered strawberries or coconut chia seed pudding. The moment you start depriving yourself is when you start to feel like you’re missing out on something and you want to binge.

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You’re doing too much cardio

Yes, cardio is a necessary part of your workout routine. It keeps your heart healthy, boosts your metabolism, and gives you a good sweat (you should break one daily). However, only doing cardio—or doing too much of it—can actually add to the problem. Longer cardio sessions like staying on the elliptical for 90 minutes or going for regular 10-mile runs can eat away at your lean muscle mass, which is essential for increasing your metabolism to burn more calories.

It causes the body to become more endurance-focused, storing energy as fat to ensure it has plenty of reserve fuel to keep you going for all those miles. Not to mention it dramatically increases your appetite, making you more susceptible to unnecessary snacking or overeating.

You’re not lifting weights

This one goes hand in hand with #3. I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t do cardio. If you love to run or bike for reasons other than losing weight, then by all means don’t stop. But if your primary goal is fat loss, there are other forms of exercise that give a much better bang for your buck. The best way to lose weight and build lean muscle by doing some form of strength training in addition to your cardio. The more muscle tone your body has, the more fat you’ll burn.

If you’re not ready to give up your cardio routine just yet, try adding some interval training by performing short bursts of all-out effort mixed into your regular session. These workouts are much more effective at promoting hormones that target stubborn fat. Then, start adding some resistance training to your routine. Body weight exercises like push-ups, squats, and lunges are a great place to start to help build up to lifting actual weights.

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You’re not working hard enough

There’s no exact equation to working out and eating healthy—it’s a matter of trial and error, finding out what works specifically for your body. And more time spent in the gym doesn’t always equal a more fit person. Unless you’re an athlete, body builder, or a marathoner-in-training, the average person shouldn’t be working out more than an hour a day.

Your workouts should be intensity-dependent, not time dependent. Keep this fact in mind: the harder you work, the shorter your workout time may need to be. That’s why it’s so important to maximize your time spent in the gym or fitness class so you can achieve that coveted ‘afterburn’ effect which keeps your metabolism revved for 24-48 hours afterward.

You’re not taking time to recover

When you do achieve that afterburn and you’re really feeling your workout the next day, those are the days to focus on different muscle groups. Or, if you prefer to work out your whole body, establish a workout routine where you work your entire body one day and then take the next day to do light cardio, stretching, or complete rest.

Recovery and rest are often more important than the workout itself. It’s during those periods that your body does most of the actual fat burning. So give yourself that time to fully recover so you’re ready to work hard the following day. Most importantly, listen to your body. Push yourself, but also give it some love, too.

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Your body is under too much stress

Exercise is a stressor on your body. When you have a healthy balance of exercise-related stress and recovery time, your body is healthy and can lose its excess fat. However, not giving your body enough time to recover can also be a negative (see above) as you’ll start to produce an excessive amount of cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol is both normal and important when working out, it’s involved in processes that give your muscles the energy needed to get moving.

However, when your body is exposed to cortisol for longer periods of time, it starts to cause negative effects, like stubborn fat in areas you don’t want. Exercise isn’t the only stressor that can produce excess cortisol. A stressful personal or professional life can also make your body produce too much of this hormone. When you stop exercising, your body stops producing cortisol; however, it may not be quite as easy to turn off the mental stressors going on in your life. Make sure you’re keeping your mental and emotional health in check in addition to your physical health. You should strive for total-body wellness.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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