Short bursts of exercise may be as beneficial as regular workouts in extending life

There is bad news and good.

The bad: You need more than 20 minutes of daily exercise to cut down on reducing death and disease. Less than 20 won't cut it. The good news: it doesn't matter if exercise is broken down into short bursts of activity throughout the day, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

A few years ago, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity on a weekly basis, making note that exercise should be in 10 minute spurts because "intervals shorter than this do not have the same health benefits."

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However, lead study author, Professor William E. Kraus from the Duke University School of Medicine, points to some confusion between the guidelines and the type of recommended activities.

"For about 30 years, guidelines have suggested that moderate-to-vigorous activity could provide health benefits, but only if you sustained the activity for 10 minutes or more," he said, as reported by Forbes.

The doctor added, "That flies in the face of public health recommendations, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and parking farther from your destination. Those don’t take 10 minutes, so why were they recommended?"

Kraus and researchers from the National Cancer Institute studied how relevant is the duration of exercise matters in our long-term health.

In a three year period (2003-2006), the team had 4,840 adults who were 40 years and older wear devices called accelerometers, which could track how often they moved and determine how long they exercise. 

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Data showed that participants who got less than 20 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) a day were at the highest risk of death among the entire group. MVPA included brisk walking, bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour, tennis, gardening, water aerobics and ballroom dancing.

By comparison, those who got 60 to 99 minutes a day of MVPA were about half as likely to have died, and those who got 100 or more minutes a day were three-quarters less likely to have died.

By 2011, there were 700 recorded deaths.

Kraus and his team found that sustaining bouts of physical activity played no factor in overall health. The accumulated minutes of exercise had the same benefit, regardless of whether the physical activity was performed in short bursts throughout the day or in concentrated sessions that were at least 5 or 10 minutes in duration.