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  • Kellie Scott

Are short bursts of daily exercise or longer, less regular sessions better for your health?

Even 20 seconds of stair-climbing can lead to measurable improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness.

If you're like most Australians, you probably don't get enough exercise. It's not that you don't want to, it's just: who has the time? When you do get moving, you want it to count, so you may have wondered what's better for you: squeezing in 10 minutes here and there between tasks each day, or packing exercise into a few longer sessions each week. TLTR: Both are beneficial for your long-term health, and you should fit in whatever you can. Some is better than none, after all. But if you're lucky enough to choose, you may want to consider the following.

The reasons we struggle to exercise

The top reason people say they don't exercise is a lack of time, says Emmanuel Stamatakis, professor of physical activity, lifestyle and population health at University of Sydney. And despite us knowing it's imperative for health, it's not always a priority when we've got work, family and other things to think about. "Attractive" sedentary behaviours like social media and TV, and environmental barriers like a lack of resources also get in the way of our goals to get moving. As Professor Stamatakis says, "Sometimes where we live makes being physically active a difficult option". Regular short exercise sessions vs fewer longer sessions

When comparing regular short bursts of exercise against fewer longer sessions, studies show little overall difference to long-term health indicators such as all-cause mortality, cardiovascular mortality and cancer mortality, Professor Stamatakis says. A 2017 British study is one example, saying that when comparing exercise patterns, "more than one road leads to Rome". It measured "weekend warriors" — people who meet MVPA (moderate-to-vigorous physical activity) recommendations in just one to two sessions per week and do quite a lot of sport — against those regularly active (more than three sessions per week reporting more than 150 mins/week in moderate-intensity or more than 75 mins/week in vigorous-intensity activities).

It found both groups experienced similar reduction in risk of all-cause, cardiovascular and cancer mortality. But Professor Stamatakis says different exercise patterns do carry some unique offerings. For example, high intensity exercise with recovery periods (also known at HIIT — high intensity interval training) provides rapid and larger improvements in aerobic fitness if sustained in the long-term. Aerobic fitness is the body's ability to transfer oxygen from the atmosphere through the lungs and blood to the working muscles. The more regular, the better

The authors of the British study said there were still good reasons to strive for daily or nearly daily physical activity — including lower risk of musculoskeletal injury.

Regular exercise can also help reduce diabetes risk, Professor Stamatakis says. "For health outcomes like how our bodies control blood glucose, it looks like regularity is important — so the more frequent the better," he says. "It's a positive message for people who are time-poor … to make it part if part of day-to-day living." He says HIIT can have "dramatic" positive effects on aerobic fitness. "Also, this kind of improvement in aerobic fitness will increase capacity of people to do even more, demanding exercise," Professor Stamatakis says. "High intensity incidental physical activity, a snack-type variation of HITT that is embedded into daily living, and can be done pretty much anywhere, may also improve fitness."

That could include simply carrying heavy shopping bags up a few flights of stairs or running 100 metres to catch your train. This snack-type exercise is great for people who can't leave their kids to go to the gym for an hour, for example. Nigel Stepto, professor of clinical exercise science at Victoria University, says you won't likely lose weight with this method, but importantly, should be able to prevent weight gain. And if you're really struggling to find even 10 minutes in your day, take some comfort in knowing even brief 20 seconds of stair-climbing can lead to measurable improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness. Professor Stamatakis says when it comes down to it, the optimal exercise for you is whatever you can fit into your daily routine.

Longer sessions for weight loss (and you may need short ones too)

If you have time to participate in sport or formal training a few times a week, that will have "huge benefits", says Professor Stepto. "Exercise around the hour mark will give you two days' worth of benefits," he says


You may be considering longer sessions of exercise if trying to meet specific goals, like strengthening or weight loss — this is where longer sessions can help. "Depending on the specific goal … both short bouts and longer exercise sessions may be necessary," Professor Stepto says. "With such goals, exercise professionals — a good personal/fitness trainer, or an accredited exercise physiologist — would be appropriate to ensure exercise is tailored to [your] personal commitments." But to succeed with weight loss, he says you would also need nutritional intervention. It's worth noting too, the research tell us when people follow healthy habits for enjoyment and wellbeing rather than weight loss, they are more likely to stick to the lifestyle changes.

If he had to choose between daily burst of snack exercise or two-to-three longer sessions a week, Professor Stepto says he would choose the longer sessions. But with a qualification. "That's just me and how I've grown up. But I would say that someone who is time-poor but seeking an adequate dose of exercise will gain health and fitness benefits from shorter sessions — 10 to 15 minutes — of HIIT."

Article from ABC Life

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