Research

What This Surprising Research Tells us About Exercise Duration

Written by Allie

Get 10,000 steps a day. Take a lunchtime spin class. Do a two-hour yoga intensive. Try a four-minute high-intensity exercise app. Take the stairs.

New research shows that all of those exercise efforts can make an impact on your health and personal wellness, no matter how long you exercise.

In a study published by the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers found that fitting in more “moderate to vigorous” physical activity, even in short bursts, can reduce the risk of disease and death. For these purposes, moderate activity is defined as brisk walking, while a jog is vigorous.

The study looked at nearly 5,000 people aged 40 and older who had taken the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey between 2003 and 2006. Participants wore a fitness tracker for up to a week, measuring activity, exertion, and exercise duration. The researchers then cross-referenced a national database in 2011 to see which participants were still alive.

What They Found

  • People who got less than 20 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity per day had the highest risk of death.
  • Those who got 60 minutes per day cut their risk of death by more than half.
  • At 100 minutes per day you’ve reduced your risk of death by 74%, but the benefits plateau from there. So there’s no added benefit to extra lengthy workouts.
  • Those who recorded more minutes of activity overall were less likely to die, regardless of how long they exercised at a time. What mattered was the total acculumated exercise per day.

Why It Matters

Currently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get 150 minutes of “moderate-to-vigorous” physical activity per week to reap the most substantial health benefits.

But this research suggests that dramatic results can happen with small changes, as long as you are still getting enough activity overall.

“For about 30 years, guidelines have suggested that moderate-to-vigorous activity could provide health benefits, but only if you sustained the activity for 10 minutes or more,” says study author William E. Kraus, M.D., of the Duke University School of Medicine.

The study findings are good news for most Americans, Kraus continues, because accumulating 30 minutes per day in short bouts may be more convenient than setting a half-hour block. We can expect updated guidelines by the end of the year, he says.

These findings may also have implications for your corporate wellness program. When previously some programs encouraged (or required) employees to visit a gym for at least 30 minutes in order to earn credit, these guidelines may also change to reflect new data.

People who exercise regularly may also out-live their age-fellows as well, protect themselves against Alzheimers, and be an easy way to take care of your heart.

The key takeaway: even small bouts of activity count toward your weekly recommended total. So take the stairs. Park at the far end of the parking lot. Turn your afternoon check-in into a walking meeting. And breathe a little easier knowing that you’re working towards your activity goals while you’re at it.


Want to turn this principle into a team fitness challenge? Talk to an IncentFit specialist about our Challenges platform. We’ve got ideas to help your team get moving little by little.