Move it and lose it: Every 'brisk' minute counts

September 1, 2013

To win the war against weight gain, it turns out that every skirmish matters – as long as the physical activity puts your heart and lungs to work.

In a new study published today in the American Journal of Health Promotion, University of Utah researchers found that even brief episodes of that exceed a certain level of intensity can have as positive an effect on weight as does the current recommendation of 10 or more minutes at a time.

"What we learned is that for preventing , the intensity of the activity matters more than duration," says Jessie X. Fan, professor of family and consumer studies at the U. "This new understanding is important because fewer than 5 percent of American adults today achieve the recommended level of physical activity in a week according to the current . Knowing that even short bouts of 'brisk' activity can add up to a positive effect is an encouraging message for promoting better health."

The current physical activity guideline for Americans is to get at least 150 minutes of moderate to , MVPA, a week, which can be accumulated in eight to 10 minute periods. MVPA is defined as greater than 2,020 counts per minute measured with a tool called an .

For an in an everyday setting without a fancy gadget to gauge the exertion, that would translate roughly to a of about three mph. But taking the stairs, parking at the far end of the lot, and walking to the store or between errands are choices that can add up and can make a positive health difference, the researchers note.

The study shows that higher-intensity activity was associated with a lower risk of obesity, whether in "bouts" of fewer or greater than 10 minutes.

This may be especially important news for women, who were on average less physically active than men. However, neither men nor women came close to the weekly 150-minute recommendation with bouts of eight to 10 minutes. However, when adding shorter bouts of higher-intensity activity, men exceeded the recommendation on average, accumulating 246 minutes per week, and women came close, at 144 minutes per week on average. The message is: a little more effort can have an important health payback.

How the Study was Conducted

Subjects for the study were drawn from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, NHANES, a national program that has been collecting health and nutrition data from a representative sample of adults and children in the United States since 1999.

From 2003 to 2006, participants in the survey wore accelerometers for seven days, which captured data on their physical activity. This information was in addition to the broad range of demographic and health-related information collected in the NHANES program from interviews and physical examinations.

For this study, participants from 18 to 64 years of age were drawn from the database. There were some exclusions, including pregnancy or impairments that compromised participants' ability to walk, such as being wheelchair bound. The final sample size for the current study was 2,202 women and 2,309 men.

Researchers compared measurements of physical activity based on length of time and intensity. Four categories were created: higher-intensity bouts (greater than 10 minutes exertion at greater than 2,020 counts per minutes, or CPM), higher-intensity short bouts (less than 10 minutes at greater than 2,020 CPM), lower-intensity long bouts (greater than 10 minutes and less than 2,019 CPM), and lower-intensity short bouts (less than 10 minutes and less than 2,019 CPM).

The study used body mass index, BMI, to measure weight status. BMI is a standard formula calculated using an individual's weight adjusted for height, and is used as an indicator of healthy weight. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered normal weight, whereas a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is overweight; and over 30 is obese.

Results show that for women, each daily minute spent in higher-intensity short bouts was related to a decrease of .07 BMI. Looking at it another way, each such minute offset the calorie equivalent of .41 pounds. This means that when comparing two women each 5-feet-5-inches tall, the woman who regularly adds a minute of brisk activity to her day will weigh nearly a half-pound less. Results were similar for men. Importantly for both, each daily minute of higher-intensity activity lowered the odds of obesity—5 percent for women, and 2 percent for men.

Explore further: Just 10 minutes of physical activity multiple times a day improves health

Related Stories

Just 10 minutes of physical activity multiple times a day improves health

January 4, 2013
Despite the importance of physical activity, many people feel they don't have enough time to exercise. An active lifestyle that includes engaging in physical activity for less than 10 minutes multiple times a day can have ...

Total amount of exercise important, not frequency, research shows

June 20, 2013
A new study by Queen's University researchers has determined that adults who accumulated 150 minutes of exercise on a few days of the week were not any less healthy than adults who exercised more frequently throughout the ...

Researchers quantify how many years of life are gained by being physically active

November 6, 2012
In a new study from Brigham and Women's Hospital, in collaboration with the National Cancer Institute, researchers have quantified how many years of life are gained by being physically active at different levels, among all ...

Even physically active women sit too much

October 31, 2012
Women who exercise regularly spend as much time sitting as women who don't, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

With weekly exercise, time trumps frequency

July 12, 2013
(HealthDay)—Good news for weekend warriors: The number of times you exercise in a week isn't as important as getting the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity, a new study finds.

Tips for getting enough physical activity

July 18, 2011
It may sound daunting: The government says most adults should get 2 1/2 hours a week of physical activity that revs their heart rates.

Recommended for you

High-fat diet in pregnancy can cause mental health problems in offspring

July 21, 2017
A high-fat diet not only creates health problems for expectant mothers, but new research in an animal model suggests it alters the development of the brain and endocrine system of their offspring and has a long-term impact ...

To combat teen smoking, health experts recommend R ratings for movies that depict tobacco use

July 21, 2017
Public health experts have an unusual suggestion for reducing teen smoking: Give just about any movie that depicts tobacco use an automatic R rating.

Opioids and obesity, not 'despair deaths,' raising mortality rates for white Americans

July 20, 2017
Drug-related deaths among middle-aged white men increased more than 25-fold between 1980 and 2014, with the bulk of that spike occurring since the mid-1990s when addictive prescription opioids became broadly available, according ...

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.