We have all heard the benefits of exercise; it can help improve strength, cardiovascular function, and quality of life. However, finding time to exercise can be difficult. So how much activity do we need to perform in order to have an improvement in our health?
The surgeon general reports that most people begin to see increased health benefits when performing at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on most, if not all, days of the week. This specific amount of activity maximizes the improvement of cardiovascular fitness and bone health, the ability to perform daily activities, and it lowers the likelihood of developing back pain and disability. Improvement of one’s health also minimizes the cost of health care.
This recommendation does allow for a cumulative amount of activity, but it also permits a less continuous flow of activity, than say, three 10-minute sessions throughout the day. This could include activities such as using the stairs, going for a short walk on your lunch break, or performing a home exercise program designed by your physical therapist.
In one recent study from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, the researchers examined the effects of interval training on improved fitness. The researchers separated men into three groups. The first the control group, was told not to change anything about their diet or sedentary lifestyle. The second group rode a stationary bicycle for 45 minutes at a moderate pace. The final group rode the stationary bicycle for a total of 10 minutes, while performing interval training. They were instructed to warm of up for 2 minutes, then pedal as hard as they could for 20 seconds, return to a slow pace for 2 minutes, sprint again for 20 seconds, recover at a slow pace for another 2 minutes, sprint for one last interval of 20 seconds, and then cool down for three minutes. This workout lasted ten minutes with only one minute of strenuous activity. Both exercise groups completed three sessions a week for 12 weeks.
Re-examining the participants of this study, the researchers found that both exercise groups had similar gains. The subjects demonstrated increased endurance by almost 20%, significant improvements in insulin resistance, and changes to the muscles that improved both energy production and oxygen consumption.
So what does this mean for the average person? If you have the time for a 30-45 minute workout each day, you will enjoy the added health benefits of exercise. However, this data also indicates that you can still reap the benefits from only a few minutes of exercise. If working out for long periods of time, most days of the week seems too daunting, on your body or schedule, you can still have improvements from a shortened workout. Of course, the most important step is getting started.
Gillen JB, Martin BJ, MacInnis MJ, Skelly LE, Tarnopolsky MA, Gibala MJ (2016) Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0154075. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0154075