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Why Even a Little Bit of Exercise Can Make a Big Difference

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is the Health & Sex Editor at SheKnows. She is a bioethicist, adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University and has written for publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling...

Did you only manage to squeeze in a short workout? It's still helping

When it comes to exercise, most of us have the best intentions. We get the new shoes, buy the gym membership or order the piece of workout equipment thinking that this will be the purchase that gets us into exercise. Maybe it does for a few days, but ultimately, you likely end up tapering off or stopping completely.

Sometimes, you consider a quick 20-minute walk, or a half-hour trip to the gym between meetings, but then wonder if there's even any point, considering how infrequently you actually lace up those sneakers. As it turns out, it does help after all.

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A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that even quick bouts of exercise — we're talking as short as 10 minutes — can have substantial health benefits.

This is in stark contrast to existing exercise guidelines, which tend to make one think that in order to "count" as exercising (and have any impact at all) adults must get at least 150 minutes each week of moderate or 75 minutes each week of vigorous‐intensity physical activity. In a perfect world, that would happen. But in the real world, that may sound a little daunting for a lot of people, leaving many to figure that if they're not able to get in the full amount each week, then it's not worth doing in the first place.

The idea of suggesting 10-minute bouts of exercise started in the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, but up until this point, there was no dedicated research looking into whether this is actually effective.

In an editorial that ran alongside the study, the authors conclude that moderate to vigorous physical activity — even in short bouts — reduces mortality and that there are health benefits from a workout of any length. They add that though the results of the study don't solve the problem of how to encourage Americans to exercise more, it could encourage policies that would make it easier for people to get additional movement in their everyday lives.

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The authors suggest this could be accomplished by "partnering with architects to design buildings with prominent stairways and parking lots that are distant from buildings" that could encourage physical activity as well as the creation of "efficient, safe, and affordable public transportation systems" that could result in more walking and less driving.

So, if you're wondering whether getting off the couch and taking a quick walk to the grocery store is worth it, you know now that it is.

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