I had every intention of working out yesterday, but each time I tried to make it out the door for a run, I realized I only had 10 or 20 minutes instead of the hour I had planned. At the end of the day, I hadn't run at all because I didn't think that I had the time. As it turns out, I was looking at exercise the wrong way. One study has found that even short bursts of movement are just as beneficial for your health as one long session.
It's easy to think that if you don't have time for a solid block of exercise, it's not even worth making the effort. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, adults should aim for 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week. But a 2018 study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, shows that those 30 minutes don't have to come in one chunk of time.
For the study, researchers from Duke University wanted to determine whether engaging in very short bursts of exercise — like taking the stairs — throughout the day was as effective as longer bouts of movement.
They analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted between 2003 and 2006. It collected health data from 4,840 adults over 40 who wore accelerometers to calculate their daily physical activity and exertion. They then used the national health database to determine how many of these participants were still alive in 2011.
The data showed that the adults who moved for at least 100 minutes each day were in the best health and decreased their risk of developing health issues by 76 percent. And it simply didn't matter if those minutes came in the form of one long run or gym workout or if they were achieved with smaller sessions of moderate exercise such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking the dog around the block a few times a day. Participants who accrued less than 20 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity each day had the highest risk of early death.
Still don't believe that shorter, more intense workouts are the way to go?
Researchers from Federal University of Goias, Brazil reviewed 77 different studies that analyzed the effects of interval training versus moderate-intensity continuous training (MOD). While both methods led to weight loss across all the studies, interval training definitely was the winner. On average, short-intense workouts led to 28.5 percent more weight loss compared to MOD.
Bottom line: I should have gone for that run yesterday, even if it only lasted 10 minutes. That plus a dog walk would have been better for my health than trying to squeeze in a longer workout another day. Lesson learned.
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in March 2018.