One of the biggest reasons people give for not exercising is a lack of time. That’s understandable! Life is busy. There’s work, family, social activities, and a seemingly endless list of daily tasks, like cleaning and cooking meals. Sometimes, it all seems overwhelming and you wonder how you’ll possibly fit in a 30 or 45-minute exercise session, even if it is good for your health!
Yet, this is where most people trip themselves up because there’s no need to do a straight 45-minute workout. How about 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes later in the day or even three 10 to 15-minute sessions throughout the day? There are some compelling advantages to doing several, short exercise sessions over the course of a day as opposed to one longer way. Let’s look at why splitting up your exercise sessions might be MORE beneficial than doing it all at once.
Burn More Fat?
Can doing several shorter workouts each day lead to greater fat loss? A 2011 study published in the Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging journal compared the impact of a single exercise session to three shorter ones. What they found was three 10-minute sessions led to greater oxidation of fat after each sweat session than the same quantity of exercise carried out in a single, 30-minute session. That’s good news if you’re trying to lose body fat. Both groups worked out at the same intensity, yet the group that did three sessions perceived that they were working less hard than the group that worked out for 30 minutes straight. So, there’s another reason to work out shorter and more often – it may feel easier!
Break Up the Impact of Sitting
Another benefit of breaking up your workouts is it reduces stints of sitting. How often have you gotten so engrossed in doing something on the computer and looked up to find 3 hours had passed and you haven’t moved an inch? Those long spells of sitting adversely impact your metabolic health by lowering insulin sensitivity and worsening glucose control. They also reduce the activity of an important enzyme called lipoprotein lipase that removes triglycerides, or fats, from your blood. Neither is healthy from a metabolic or a fat loss standpoint.
Some people work out once in the morning or when they get home from work and sit for the rest of the day. In fact, a study using accelerometers showed that the average adult spends only 1% to 5% of their waking hours engaged in at least moderate-intensity physical activity – and less than 1% of this exercise is sustained for at least 10 minutes.
Why is this so concerning? Studies show that too much sitting is an independent risk factor for health problems, like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and premature mortality. Plus, sitting increases the risk of developing a blood clot in the legs, especially if you take certain medications, like birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy. Even if you do a structured workout, sitting for long periods of time is bad for your health. So, splitting up your workouts means that you break up stints of sitting – and that matters to your overall health.
You Can Push Harder
If you’re working out for 30 to 45 minutes, you’ll probably keep some energy in reserve to help you make it through the session. When you’re doing a brief, 10-minute session, you can give it your all since you know your sweat time is limited. The more intensely you push during a workout, the greater the after-burn will be. The after-burn refers to the extra calories you burn after an intense workout due to the added stress high-intensity exercise places on the body. More of an afterburn increases the number of calories you’ll burn after the sweat session is over. Knowing you have a limited time to work out means you’ll more likely to push yourself during a give session and you’ll get more of an after-burn. That’s beneficial whether you’re trying to burn more body fat or improve your fitness level.
If you could get similar benefits doing a 10-workout as you could a 50-minute one, you’d do the shorter one, right? A study showed that 10 minutes of high-intensity interval training, involving a total of one minute of total sprinting time was as effective for improving aerobic capacity and muscle function in men as a 50-minute bout of endurance exercise. So, don’t worry that you won’t get benefits unless you go for some established time, usually 30 minutes. Intensity is more important than duration for building fitness than duration.
The Pleasure Component
A full, 65-minute workout might seem daunting and something you don’t look forward to simply because it’s long. But a 10-minute session is over before you know it. If you eliminate the “dread” factor from working out by shortening the duration of your exercise sessions, you’re more likely to take action rather than find an excuse not to exercise when you feel time crunched. Even one 10-minute session at a high intensity will give benefits. However, you can do always do more than one spaced over the day and include strength-training in one of those sessions.
The Bottom Line
No matter how you structure it, exercise should be on your to-do list. The health benefits are too compelling to ignore. How does a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression, and bone loss sound? Those are the few of the benefits you get when you work out regularly. Of course, you need exercise that gets your heart rate up AND strength training for optimal health and fitness, but you don’t need long sessions to get benefits. You can break either type of training into shorter, more frequent segments if that works for you better. You’re in charge!
Clin Physiol Funct Imaging. 2011;31;215–20.
Curr Cardiovasc Risk Rep. 2008 Jul; 2(4): 292–298. doi: 10.1007/s12170-008-0054-8.
Live Science. “Just How Short Can Your Workout Be?”