Which is more important to your health: how long you exercise or how much effort you put into it? According to researchers from the University of Utah, the more intense your exercise is, the more productive it is. Every minute counts. No need for an hour-long class or walking several miles—they say you can get all the fitness you need in short bursts of moderate to intense exercise throughout the day.
“What we learned that is for preventing weight gain, the intensity of the activity matters more than duration,” said study leader Jessie X. Fan, professor of family and consumer studies.
About 150 minutes of intense exercise each week, split into bouts of 8 to 10 minutes is ideal. Walking briskly at 3 miles per hour, for example, would fit this description for this research.
The study looked at participants in the National health and Nutrition Examination Survey, analyzing a total of 2,202 women and 2,309 men. The researchers looked at four types of exercise including: long bouts of high intensity, short bouts of high intensity, long bouts of low intensity, and short bouts of low intensity exercise. They then compared participants exercise practices with their Body Mass Index (BMI) and body fat measurements.
For every extra daily minute of high intensity exercise, participants reduced their obesity risk by 5% for women and 2% for men.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines moderate intensity exercise as that which causes you to work hard enough to break a sweat and raise your heart rate. One test is that you should be able to talk but not sing the words to your favorite song.
For women, each daily minute of higher intensity short bouts was tied to a reduction in BMI of 0.07. In other words, each daily minute of brisk exercise burned the calorie equivalent of 0.41 pounds.
This is similar to saying that comparing two women of height 5 ft, 5 in, the one who regularly does a minute of brisk exercise more per day will weigh nearly a half-pound less – all other things being equal.
This is good news particularly for people who use their lack of time as an excuse for not exercising daily. A ten-minute burst of jumping jacks can be done in your office, before you get in the shower, or as you cook. Even better, research shows that just 15 minutes of daily exercise adds 3 years to life, though they say this is the bare minimum.