Brief Exercise: Can You Get Benefits From Exercise Sessions as Short as a Minute?

Brief Exercise: Can You Get Benefits From Exercise Sessions as Short as a Minute?Gone are the days where you had to spend 60 minutes jogging on a treadmill to get the benefits of exercise. Recent research shows you can get benefits from as little as 10 minutes of exercise. But what about even shorter periods of activity, say 1 or 2 minutes? Surely these don’t count. Or do they?

Even Brief Exercise Has Benefits

According to a new Canadian study, short bursts of activity like running to catch the bus or walking up stairs count when it comes to health. They’ve dubbed this type of exercise “incidental physical activity,” meaning it’s non-structured, unplanned segments of activity that are usually brief in duration. This is not exercising you do at the gym, but activities you do around the house, going up and down stairs and scrubbing the floor.

In a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, researchers put incidental physical activity to the test. They strapped an accelerometer on a group of 135 obese participants to follow their movements for 7 days and assess their level of activity and fitness.

The most active participants engaged in 34 minutes of moderate activity each day in short segments of less than 10 minutes at a stretch. The least active group was only active about 6 minutes a day. Even though neither group engaged in sustained exercise, the most active group reduced their risk of heart disease by 15% and their risk of death by 13%.

Even Short Periods of Exercise Count

It’s unlikely such short bursts of moderate activity will do much to improve aerobic capacity, but it shows that staying active during the day has health benefits. Plus, this is the type of activity most people can do, regardless of their fitness level, to help improve their health. Research has already shown that sitting too much increases mortality from heart disease and other causes. More movement of all types seems to be the key to good health and longevity.

 Are 10-Minute Sessions as Effective as 40-Minute Ones?

More good news. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 10-minute exercise sessions spaced throughout the day are just as effective as a single 40-minute workout. Researchers divided overweight women into groups. One group exercised 10 minutes a day in 4 different sessions. Another group exercised for 40 minutes once a day for 18 months. Both groups followed a similar calorie-controlled diet.

At the end of the 18 month period, both groups lost similar amounts of weight, but the 10-minute exercise group was better able to maintain their weight loss. Both groups experienced similar improvements in cardiovascular conditioning. For some people, 10-minute sessions are more manageable than a single 40-minute one, and the good news is they seem to have similar health benefits.

What Does This Mean?

You don’t have to spend an hour at the gym to get the health benefits of exercise. Brief exercise sessions as short as 10 minutes boosts cardiovascular health and helps with weight management. Surprisingly, even bursts of activity as short as 1-minute may help to reduce mortality. The take-home message? Find more reasons to move around during the day, and reap the health benefits of a more active lifestyle.



The Globe. “No Time for a Workout? Try Micro-Exercise”

American Medical Association. 1999. 282: 1554-1560.

Bandolier. “Short Versus Long Periods of Exercise on Weight Loss and Fitness”


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