Daniel DeNoon

Combine brief bouts of moderate exercise for health

No time in your busy schedule for a long workout? No problem. Combining brief bouts of moderate to vigorous exercise over the course of the day also add up to good health, an interesting new study suggests.

Most guidelines—such as those of the American Heart Association—call for at least 30 minutes of moderate plus vigorous physical activity five days a week in bouts of at least 10 to 15 minutes. Some experts call for even more. Exercise specialist Aaron Baggish, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, says people wishing to be in tip-top shape should strive to get in an hour of exercise five days a week.

Many people have trouble finding that kind of time. Is it possible to cram exercise into shorter bursts?

Every minute of exercise counts

To find out how we can squeeze more exercise into our lives, researchers led by Jessie X. Fan, PhD, professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah, analyzed data on 4,511 U.S. adults age 18 to 64 collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Fan’s team identified people who accumulated at least the minimum recommended amount of exercise, but in shorter-than-recommended bouts of 10 minutes or fewer. They found that people who accumulated exercise in very short bursts and who got at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week had a lower body mass index (BMI, a measure of weight versus height) than those who didn’t get 150 minutes of exercise a week.

“We are talking about a brisk walk at three miles per hour, or anything of higher intensity like going up and down a flight of stairs or jumping rope,” Dr. Fan says. “This doesn’t change the recommendation of 150 minutes of brisk exercise a week or 30 minutes on five days. It is just a different way of accumulating this.”

The findings reinforce suggestions that people should look for simple ways to get short bouts of exercise: for example, by parking at the far end of the lot and walking briskly to the entrance, by taking the stairs quickly instead of riding the elevator, or by plugging in your earbuds and dancing energetically to a favorite song.

If you are a professional working a desk job at a computer, set a timer and every half hour get up and do a minute or two of something energetic, Dr. Fan suggests.

The Fan study isn’t the first to suggest that a little exercise is better than none, and that accumulating shorter bouts of exercise is better than not missing exercise days due to lack of time for a longer workout.

“This is a story that has been developing over some time,” says Dr. Daniel Forman, associate professor of medicine at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Now people have no excuse for not exercising.”

Comments:

  1. family photos colorado

    I agree with you but it is exercises intended for every day to keep our body transfer and get just a little perspiration, however, not with a special goal including reduce fat or lean muscle mass.

  2. Russell E. Willis

    You should consider getting a personal trainer. A personal trainer is trained in what specific exercises will help you build muscle. Your personal trainer will also help you with a variety of tips including things like what you should be eating as well as supplement advice. In addition to this, your personal trainer will push you when you need to pushed to go that extra mile to help you build your muscles.

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  7. Elsamma Chacko, PhD, MD

    An old country doctor and type 2 diabetes patient, I used to tell my patients who asked about the “best time to exercise” that any time was good as long as they put in at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week. I now think this advice is off the mark, especially for patients with obesity or diabetes.

    Keeping blood glucose within reasonable bounds is the challenge we diabetes patients face. Food is the source of the glucose in the blood and as such it makes sense that elective physical activities be timed in some manner with the arrival of meal-derived glucose in the blood stream. In fact, connect a few dots of physiological facts, and one cannot escape the conclusion that there exists an “exercise window” (of opportunity), a little over one hour in duration and starting at about 30 minutes post-meal.

    1.  When diabetes patients eat normal meals, their blood glucose readings rise to abnormally high levels before coming back down. [Healthy people eating identical meals show hardly a bump.]
     
    2.  Glucose from the meal begins to appear in the blood some 15 to 20 minutes following the first bite; by the 30th minute the process is in full swing. Although these points vary considerably, a good rule of thumb is that the glucose peaks around the 1-hour mark, and at the 90-minute mark post-meal, the glucose level is half way back to the pre-meal value.
     
    3.  If glucose is available in the blood stream when physical activity is required of the human body, it will readily utilize the blood glucose to fuel the activity.
     
    4.  Every glucose molecule used up in this manner is one less available to form the glucose peak. The smaller the glucose peak the closer it is to the healthy response.
     
    5.  Patients who exercise during periods other than the exercise window not only miss the chance to blunt the glucose peak but may face elevated A1C values.
      

    • Patrick J. Skerrett

      Prof Chacko,

      I was unexpectedly diagnosed with diabetes at age 54. I’m slim and active — not a poster child for diabetes. Exercising after meals does more to help my blood sugar than exercise at other times.

      Thanks for your comment.

      pjs

      • Elsamma Chacko, PhD, MD

        The physiology is elementary, one can arrive at the “exercise window” essentially from first principles, and the pay-off from a timely walk is huge. I lost 14% of my weight, my A1C dropped by 17% and HDL shot up by 41% — in 4 months. Although I had anticipated solid gains on the basis solely of physiological considerations, what clinched the case for the “exercise window” for me was my own experience with pre-meal walks: ten years ago, 4 months of pre-meal walks had given me the same level of weight reduction, but neither A1C nor HDL had budged.

        The awareness that post-meal exercise is better than pre-meal exercise, especially for those with insulin resistance, appears to be slowly taking hold. Post-meal, however, is is a long time, with distinct intervals and possibly overlapping physiological processes. I hope it does not take decades of double blind studies, meta analyses of meta analyses and half a dozen consensus conferences to answer the question, “Doc, what time is best for exercise?”

  8. boxing exercises

    This is exercises for daily to keep our body move and get a little sweat, but not to a special purpose like burn fat or lean muscle.
    thanks

  9. Lee Coppack

    Good comment, Alexey, applies to mental health as well.

  10. keith koppenol

    At 81 i exercise 1 hour a day 5 days a week, both weights and marshall arts – i have a 4th dan in 2 karate styles. For optimum health no doubt 1 hour a day is a must;however, ican see the benefit of regular short burst throughout the day. In fact, i had a knee injury and tried short session and it felt good.

  11. Alexey V.S.

    Because these sound like observational studies and not experimental ones, I would not be in a rush to make such interesting claims :-) And, yes, of course, we would rather have people moving at least a bit rather not at all, but there is much larger issue at stake. I am primarily referring to the state of life/work balance in working class segment of population in the industrial and developing countries. If you start telling now the employers that all they need to do is to provide hourly 5 minute physical activity breaks to their employees in order to keep them healthy, that’s all they are going to do. We need to push for working conditions that allow people to practice the most optimal health habits, not the minimum standard.