The American Cancer Society recommends that cancer patients aim for 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, of physical activity a week. Broken down over seven days, this amount of time averages out to about twenty-two minutes a day. If you think about it this way, this is an incredibly doable goal. What’s even better is that those twenty-two minutes don’t have to be done at once.
In fact, research suggests that shorter bouts of exercise may have greater health benefits than longer endurance workouts. A 2016 study by Martin Gibala and his colleagues at McMaster University found that in previously sedentary individuals brief, but strenuous (10 minutes total, with only three 20 second episodes of flat-out exertion) exercise bouts three times a week for 12 weeks resulted in similar improvements in physiological and biological measures of fitness compared to those who exercised 45 minutes a week for twelve weeks.
It seems that benefits are also derived from bouts of intense exercise even as short as 4 seconds every hour! A study published last week by Edward Coyle and his team from the Human Performance Laboratory at University of Texas at Austin found that hourly 4 second bursts of maximal intensity cycle sprints interrupting prolonged sitting lowered the next day’s biological response to a high fat meal, decreasing markers of cardiovascular risk (triglyceride spike).
Previous research found the same effect for three 10-minute walks compared to a 30-minute walk in adults with borderline hypertension. The shorter walks had the same effect on blood pressure, but unlike the thirty-minute walk, they also reduced spikes in blood pressure, and so they had greater implications for overall health. We also know that simply sitting less and moving more is the ideal approach, as research suggests that:
- walking more and sitting less is even healthier for you than exercising an hour a day if you are then sedentary for fourteen hours
- replacing thirty minutes of sedentary time with light activity will reduce mortality risk
- short bouts of activity will result in reduced inflammation and other hallmark biological factors driving cancer development