Do Short Workouts Really Improve Health?


Woman on treadmill | Image by Kamil Macniak/Shutterstock

With studies continuing to emerge highlighting the benefits of just minutes of exercise per day, some experts are cautioning against taking the findings as gospel.

One study published in 2022 found that just 15 minutes of weekly activity was correlated with longer life. Another, also published in 2022, revealed that performing just three one-minute bursts of intense movement per day can help people live longer. A paper from 2019 even concluded that 10 minutes of total weekly physical activity could help people extend their lifespan.

Prevailing wisdom recommends at least 75 minutes of vigorous movement combined with 150 minutes of less-intense activity each week. New research, however, continues to confirm that immense benefits can be accrued from even short bouts of physical activity.

Stephen J. Carter, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the Indiana University Bloomington School of Public Health, said people are likely skeptical of the claims but should be open to “thinking about exercise differently.” Ultimately, explained Carter, any movement is better than no movement.

Even short bursts of activity can elicit physiological changes, according to Malia Blue, an assistant professor of exercise and sport science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

A quick hit of movement can quicken blood flow and help the body manage blood sugar. If repeated frequently over time, these benefits compound, suppressing the risk of developing heart disease or diabetes, said Blue.

Still, more rigorous, regular exercise and eating well are surer bets against becoming overweight, which drastically exacerbates and prompts the onset of numerous illnesses.

Being overweight or obese significantly contributes to developing diabetes or heart disease. As The Dallas Express previously reported, heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the United States, where life expectancy has recently dropped.

Active muscles also promote the release of beneficial compounds throughout the body. These compounds can help improve organ health, said Kevin Murach, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas.

Brief but more frequent movement also serves to interrupt “sedentary time.”

Just as studies continue to support the benefits of short bursts of exercise, they also reinforce the negative health consequences of too much sitting. It has even prompted The Heart Foundation to ask: “Is sitting the new smoking?”

The benefits of taking a moment or two to exercise are “twofold,” according to Blue.

“If you break up your sedentary time and you increase your physical activity, you’re going to see health benefits from both,” she explained.

Blue cautioned that the findings do not mean these small pockets of movement will result in much weight loss or improved athletic performance. Still, the health benefits are there, even if they are not entirely obvious.

“People want that instant gratification and frankly, that’s just not possible with exercise … but you’re doing yourself a bit of good,” reasoned Blue.

Nonetheless, Murach cautioned against taking too much stock in the findings. The studies only looked at small portions of a subject’s day.

“I’m sure there is a benefit … but if you’re doing a minute of exercise a day, is that going to be the silver bullet for extending your lifespan?” stated Murach.

Another issue with the research is that participants began at different baselines of physical activity. For a sedentary individual, one minute of exercise may represent 100% of their daily physical activity. For another, it may only be a fraction of their current regimen.

The type of exercise matters, too. While light activity has been shown to have health benefits, intense physical movement can provide a unique stimulus, like elevating one’s heart rate and improving cardiovascular function.

Ultimately, the recent studies all conclude the same thing: any form of movement performed regularly likely brings health benefits, however small they may be.

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Robert Weir
Robert Weir
1 month ago

In my opinion, everything in moderation is the key to good health. Stress is also a factor and should be kept to a minimum.

R Reason
R Reason
1 month ago

If sitting is the new smoking and Texas already got an ‘F’ in smoking, getting off my butt a couple hours a week, a great lesson to live.