In a recent blog post, Erin Hugus, MS, CN shared that three 10-minute brisk walks can be just as beneficial for blood sugar levels as one 30-minute walk. A reader asked us for some additional information on the subject, so we decided to devote an entire post on short bout or “intermittent exercise.”
Intermittent exercise throughout the dayThe question of continuous vs. intermittent exercise comes up frequently among our patients and clients. Are frequent short bouts of exercise just as beneficial as a single longer bout? What if a longer exercise session doesn’t work for your schedule — is it worthwhile to take several shorter walks? These are great questions. Many studies suggest that for reducing cardiovascular risk — and improving general health and fitness — intermittent exercise may be as effective as continuous exercise:
- One study showed similar increases in HDL cholesterol (the good type), decreases in triglycerides, total cholesterol and anxiety. Significant increases in fitness were also seen in intermittent exercisers — sometimes to a greater extent than for continuous exercise. There were no changes in total body weight, but body fat percent, waist circumference, and hip circumference were reduced for all subjects.
- In a study of obese women with and without type 2 diabetes, subjects reported a reduced perceived effort with intermittent vs. continuous exercise. Significant improvements were seen in glycosylated hemoglobin (a marker for long-term blood sugar control). Total body weight, body mass index, heart rate, and walking distance improved in both groups.
- A 12-week study compared an intermittent (2 x 15 minutes/day) exercise program with a traditional continuous (1 x 30 minutes/day) program. Maximal aerobic capacity — a marker of fitness level — increased by 4.5% for continuous exercisers and by 8.7% in the intermittent group.
So, does it matter?If reducing your health risks and improving overall health and fitness is your goal, intermittent exercise appears to be effective — and that’s great news if you have a busy schedule, are new to exercise, or easily bored. Break up your cardiovascular exercise session into several shorter bouts throughout the day. One way to do this is to build exercise into your daily routine:
- Use work breaks to walk for 10-15 minutes at a time
- Walk briskly for 10 minutes before or after each meal
- If you live close to work, plan on walking or biking at least part of the way