Shorter Exercise = Better?

Exercise recommendations for people with diabetes vary — based, mostly, on a person’s health status and how physically active he or she currently is. For nearly everyone, though, some amount of deliberate exercise is recommended. Yet many people get far less exercise than they should. This is understandable; life gets in the way, and it’s not always possible on a given day to get in 30 or 60 minutes of brisk walking when you have to work, shop, cook, and attend to the needs of family members. But what if the time commitment were only 10 minutes, and you didn’t have to exercise every day?


This level of exercise was examined recently by a study conducted at the University of Bath in the UK, published online by the European Journal of Applied Physiology. According to an article from the UK Press Association, study volunteers — 29 healthy but sedentary adults — participated in three weekly exercise bike sessions of 10 minutes each. The focus of each session was two 20-second sprints on the bikes, with participants cranking up the bike’s resistance for these sprints. The rest of the time was spent on low-intensity warm-up and cool-down periods. After six weeks, the insulin sensitivity of participants (as measured by response to a 75-gram glucose load) was 28% higher than at the beginning of the study. In addition, VO2 peak — maximal oxygen uptake, a measure of aerobic fitness — increased by 15% in males and by 12% in females.

As the study shows, it is possible to see clinically significant health improvements from shorter exercise periods than most of us would expect to be necessary. Given the challenge that maintaining a steady exercise routine represents to so many people, the study raises a question: Should people who struggle with motivation to exercise give up on more ambitious routines, and set out to exercise for only 30 minutes per week? As we noted in a post last year, motivation to exercise can be affected by a number of factors, including a feeling of being accountable to someone. But it stands to reason that one barrier to sticking with an exercise plan could be the sense that it demands a large amount of time, or at least an amount that feels daunting on a given day. If the amount of time budgeted for exercise were only 10 minutes, it is possible that many more people than otherwise would stick to their plans due to the small psychological burden that 10 minutes represents.

What do you think — would you be more likely to exercise if your goal were to do it for only 10 minutes, three times a week? Do you think you would settle into such a routine, and if so, would you then be likely to increase the length of your workouts? Would short exercise periods make self-motivation easier for you, or do you think feeling accountable to a doctor, nurse, family member, or exercise partner would still make a big difference? Leave a comment below!

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  • linda

    I have noticed that my glucose numbers run lower when I divide my workouts into two – 15 minute bouts during the day. I think it is because I can work harder during the shorter bouts. I tend to pace myself more during a 30 minute session.

  • jim snell

    Having nearly dieing from the rot and weight op to 330 lbs and after arresting the crap:

    Exercise is not optional nor cute but mandatory and necessary to keep the glucose marching off and keeping room in skeletal muscles to always store more and cut off insulin resistance and ensure decent BG regulation.

    My weight is down, my kidneys stable and more healthy and hearty exercise was/is critical to maintaing a good a1c and low daily averages.

    For those shifting 2 ton stone blocks by hand for the pharohs projects or getting equivalent exercise; you may not need much more exercise nor worry about carbs control.

  • louis

    A study based on 29 people is problematic. The only qualification seemed to be that they were sedentary and were probably doing no exercise. So 10 minutes is better than no minutes. Hardly an earth shaking find.
    The bigger problem is that some people who are motivating themselves to work out for longer periods may cut down based on this sensationalized article, possibly to their detriment. The study has no validity-too few people, a poorly defined sample group, no comparison group, etc.

  • mynewislets

    Interesting. I usually walk about 40 minutes/day. During the cold and dark winter in Ohio, I sometimes have to resort to my exercise bike for my daily activity. Its not nearly as enjoyable. Maybe I will try two 20 minute sessions instead. It would be good for my attention span and hopefully my blood sugars. I agree with the post above by Linda too that it would probably be more intense in shorter bouts.

  • William Dealy, II

    Although it may be true, as louis states above, that some people may cut down thinking they don’t need as much excercise, one would think that many more would start to excercise if it were only 30 minutes a week and that maybe they would begin to excercise even more seeing that it isn’t the end of the world. So I would say the article does much more good than it can harm; more people would start to excercise than those that would cut down.