Want to lose weight? Every minute counts!

Do you want to lose weight, but you despise long sessions on the treadmill or elliptical trainer?

Most adults seem to fall into that category. Studies have shown that few Americans obtain at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity recommended in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Fortunately a new study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion suggests that any physical activity – assuming it is fairly intense – can help people lose weight, even if only done for very short periods.

Intensity and duration of physical activity

Woman jogging with dogJessie X. Fan and others at the University of Utah compiled data on 2202 women and 2309 men aged 18 to 64 from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They grouped the physical activity of the subjects into four categories: higher-intensity sessions greater than 10 minutes, higher-intensity sessions less than 10 minutes, lower-intensity sessions greater than 10 minutes, and lower-intensity sessions less than 10 minutes.

Higher-intensity exercise was defined as greater than 2020 counts per minute as measured by an accelerometer. Researchers pointed out that walking 3 miles per hour was equivalent to that level of intensity. However, all activities – like walking in a store, climbing stairs, and much more – counted as long as it met the intensity levels monitored by the accelerometer.

Also read:
How can you find time to exercise?
How much daily exercise is best for weight loss?
A little exercise is better than none

What matters more? Exercise duration or intensity?

The authors found that high-intensity exercise, whether performed in sessions greater than 10 minutes or in shorter ones, was associated with a lower risk of obesity.

“What we learned is that for preventing weight gain, the intensity of the activity matters more than duration,” Dr. Fan, Professor of Family And Consumer Studies and Associate Dean of the College of Social Behavioral Science at the University of Utah, explained in a press release about the study.

Better yet, every minute counts – literally. For every minute of high-intensity activity women performed each day, their odds of obesity dropped 5%. For men, that one minute per day of high-intensity activity lowered the odds of obesity 2%.

The authors explained it in another way. For every additional daily minute of short-duration high-intensity activity, the body mass index of women dropped 0.07. Translated into calories, one minute per day equaled 0.41 pounds.

“Knowing that even short bouts of ‘brisk’ activity can add up to a positive effect is an encouraging message for promoting better health,” Fan concluded.

Also read:
Parents should be role models for healthy living
Tips to staying (or getting) active with your kids


I’m not going to tell you that longer sessions of exercise aren’t important. They clearly have tremendous impact on improving not only physical health, but also mental and emotional wellbeing. For losing weight, though, short bursts of activity might be helpful.

Park far away from the building entrance and walk quickly to burn more calories.
    • I have previously recommended parking at the back of parking lots and walking extra distance into stores for work. Stick with that – but walk that distance a little faster.
    • Don’t just choose the stairs over the elevator. Climb the stairs a little more quickly.
    • If you’re playing with your kids in the pool, play games where you swim across the pool – and swim a little harder doing it.

Every activity – no matter how short – matters.

Do you have any suggestions how we can all add short bursts of exercise into our daily lives? Or do you disagree with this idea and have other suggestions? Share your thoughts below!

The Dr. David Geier ShowIs high intensity training as effective as traditional exercise? In the Zone segment from Episode 66 of The Dr. David Geier Show


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Note: A modified version of this post will appear soon as an article I wrote for the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine as a contribution to the Be Active Your Way blog of the Department of Health and Human Services.

2 Responses to Want to lose weight? Every minute counts!

  1. It should be mentioned and clarified that specifically strength training (lifting, weight-training, functional exercise, body-weight training, etc) has been found to far outweigh the benefits of steady-state “cardio”. It also backs up the evidence in the article that the intensity of an exercise matters more than time spent. Further, it increases the EPOC, and increases metabolic rate 24-48 hours after the exercise has been performed. Incorporating balance-training has even more benefit as it enhances proprioception, mind-body connection, and can reduce the risk of injury. Don’t forget multi-joint/multi-muscle which create effective and efficient movement which = more bang for your buck 🙂

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