When it comes to exercise, even a little can go a long way.
A slew of new studies suggest that working out for just a few minutes -- seconds, even -- can be beneficial to your health.
Read on to find out how any amount of exercise is completely worthwhile. The amount you should do just depends on your goals.
For seniors, every second of exercise counts.
In a new Scottish study, retirement-age subjects were asked to do six six-second sprints on a stationary bicycle with one minute of rest in between. After six weeks, their blood pressure dropped by a respectable 9 percent.
It’s possible these results might translate to younger folks, said Michele Olson, an exercise science professor and researcher at Auburn University in Alabama.
“Even a little activity can increase the efficiency of your heart and lead to more energy overall, no matter what your age,” she said.
According to a new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, a five-minute daily run can cut the risk of death in middle-aged men and women by 30 percent and the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 45 percent compared to people who parked themselves on the couch all day.
But don’t cancel your gym membership just yet, Olson said.
“You have to push at a very high intensity to see improvements in heart function and reduce the dangerous, unhealthy visceral fat that collects around the organs,” she said.
Olson, who has led numerous investigations on the benefits of quick, intense exercise, said that bone health benefits begin to kick in around the ten minute mark.
“That’s about how much time you need to stress the bones and stimulate bone density to avoid osteoporosis,” she said.
Most major health groups, including the American Heart Association, recommend getting at least half an hour of activity daily -- and with good reason.
“Thirty minutes seems to be the tipping point where you begin to see not just health benefits but fitness benefits like reduced weight and increased stamina as well,” Olson said, adding that other advantages include cancer prevention, a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and a healthier cholesterol profile.
Thirty minutes of exercise is also where you’ll see improvements even if you slow down to a moderate pace, which Olson characterizes as brisk but sustainable. However, an International Journal of Obesity study published earlier this year found that pushing hard for the full half hour may lead to even greater weight loss by dulling your appetite.
One hour of exercise a day at a moderate pace appears to be the secret to substantial, long term weight loss, Olson said. This may be especially true for middle-aged and older women who are close to their ideal weight, a recent Harvard study revealed.
While sixty minutes of exercise may seem unrealistic, Olson said you don’t have to do it all at once.
“You can accumulate minutes throughout the day doing many different exercises and activities, including some resistance training,” she said. “And if you go at a higher intensity you can cut back to 45 minutes daily.”
People who are obese or have lost a lot of weight may have stubborn metabolisms that require up to 90 minutes a day of activity for weight loss or maintenance, studies suggest.
Longer exercise sessions should be done at lower intensity to prevent injury and burn out, Olson said, especially for someone who carries a lot of extra pounds. But here again, breaking up your workout into shorter, more manageable sessions should yield the same results as one marathon session.