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How Much Exercise Do You Really Need?

Even a little exercise may bring you big health benefits.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

You say you don't have time to exercise? You're hardly alone. For many people, lack of time is the single biggest obstacle to fitness. But, experts say, you may be overestimating how much exercise you really need to get at one time. Instead of investing an hour at the gym, what if you could get fitter with 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there through your day?

There's building evidence that short but frequent bouts of exercise can yield plenty of health benefits. Consider the following fitness findings:

  • A study published by the American Journal of Sports Medicine in 2006 showed that short walks after dinner were more effective than long exercise sessions in reducing the amount of fat and triglyceride levels in the bloodstream after a hearty meal.
  • Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health showed that short bouts of exercise helped lower blood pressure as well as shave inches off the hips and waistline.
  • In a study published in Preventive Medicine in 2006, researchers found that multiple workout sessions as short as 6 minutes apiece could help sedentary adults reach fitness goals similar to those achieved by working out for 30 minutes at a time.
  • In a finding published in the journal Psychopharmacology, doctors found that short bursts of exercise could help reduce the craving for cigarettes and help people quit smoking.

"There is no question that short amounts of exercise can help you get fit, help you stay fit, and help you maintain your health," says personal fitness coach Susie Shina, author of Sixty Second Circuits. "You can stay fit in increments as short as 4 and 5 minutes at a time."

The best part about that is that everyone can find 5 minutes a few times a day, says Shina, owner of a mobile personal training center called Fitness 180.

"Some of these exercises can fit into a 5-minute time period at work, at your desk, waiting on line in the grocery store, even driving in your car," says Shina. "It's not an overwhelming task, and the benefits can be enormous."

Strength and conditioning coach Jim Massaro agrees.

"This is the way I personally work out -- and it's how I train others," says Massaro, founder of the Advanced Personal Training Center in Nyack, N.Y. "It works for beginners and, by increasing the intensity of what you do in those short increments, it can also work for advanced fitness training."

That said, some fitness experts warn that short workouts can have a downside.

"The bad part about short workouts is that they send the message that you can skimp on your health -- that less is more, that you don't have to invest in yourself to be healthy -- and that's the wrong message," says Mike Ryan, a personal trainer and member of the Gold's Gym Fitness Board.

While Ryan says brief bouts of exercise are a good way to get into the fitness mindset, he believes the eventual goal should be to do longer workouts. "Whatever you think you can accomplish with short workouts, you can accomplish that much more with longer workouts," he says.

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