‘Keeping fit’ can take much less time than we might imagine

While I don’t believe in ‘exercise fascism’, I nonetheless encourage regular activity to all those who have healthy living as a goal. Many individuals know deep down that being physically active would benefit their health, but remain sedentary nonetheless. There are many potential reasons for this, but perhaps the most common of all is time, or more specifically, lack of it.

Today saw the publication of a study which suggests that maintaining or increasing physical fitness may not take as much time as we may imagine.

The study concerned, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, assessed the effects of moderate exercise (using an exercise bike or treadmill) in about 450 overweight, postmenopausal women [1].

Women exercised for 3-4 times a week, though the duration of each exercise session varied considerably. Fitness levels were assessed in all the women at the beginning of the study and six months later.

Compared with women who took no exercise, women who had exercised 192 mintues (a touch over 3 hours) a week were 8 per cent fitter. And those exercising just 72 minutes a week (an average of just 10 minutes a day) were 4 per cent fitter.

What this study appears to show is that even relatively short periods of not very strenuous activity may have fitness boosting effects for some individuals.

Now, the sort of exercise regimes studied here are unlikely to be of any benefit to someone who is already fit and active. The point is, however, that for someone who is traditionally sedentary, the benefits may be considerable, and for actually quite small investment in time (and effort).

Those who already regard themselves as ‘fit’ may be interested in other research which suggests that even for higher intensity exercise, relatively contracted session times may bring benefit. I’ve pasted in below a previous posting which presented some evidence relevant to this.

The bottom line appears to be that whatever one’s fitness level and level of activity, gains can be had with smaller investments in time as one might imagine.

Blog post – 4th October 2006

Having ‘no time’ is the most common reason individuals quote for not taking exercise, so it can be useful to know of ways in which exercise can be taken in a time efficient manner. In a study published this week in the Journal of Physiology tested two fitness regimes in young men [2].

One of these had them engaging in all-out sprints on an exercise bike for 30 seconds at a time, repeating this 4 to 6 times with four-minute rest intervals in between. Another group of men we asked to cycle at moderate intensity continuously for 90-120 minutes. Each group performed just 6 exercise sessions over a two-week period.
The groups were then tested with cycling time trials, and performed equally well. Changes in the physiology of the individuals showed similar increases in fitness too. What is important about this study is that compared to the ‘endurance’ cyclists 10 ½ hours of exercise, the ‘sprinters’ had a total exercise time of only 2 ½ hours on average.

This study suggests that short bursts of high intensity activity may work as well for attaining an maintaining fitness as much longer period of less strenuous activity. Going for the burn might prove a useful strategy for busy individuals who are interested in making the most of their exercise time.


2. Gibala MJ, et al. Short-term sprint interval versus traditional endurance training: similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and exercise performance. Skeletal Muscle and Exercise. E-pub 6th July 2006

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