How Long Do You Need to Exercise To Reap Its Benefits?

The big “E” word (Exercise) sends many people scrambling for another “E” word—excuses. Yes, you want great cardiovascular health and to burn calories and feel energized, but how long do you need to exercise to reap its benefits?

Could one minute of intense exercise, accompanied by 9 minutes of moderate effort, be all the time you need? Can you spare 10 minutes three to four times a week to exercise? Before you answer a resounding “YES,” let’s review the competition.

Read about too busy to exercise

Conventional exercise recommendations

You may be familiar with the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (PAG), which recommends the following for adults “for substantial health benefits”:

  • 150 minutes weekly of moderate-intensity aerobic activity OR

  • 75 minutes weekly of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity OR

  • An equivalent mixture of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity

  • Moderate or high intensity muscle-strengthening exercises should be performed on two or more days per week

Then along came high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

High-intensity interval training

Several years ago, the media was abuzz about an exercise regimen known as high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Although this training approach has been around for more than 100 years and practiced by elite athletes, information about how the general population could cash in on this exercise method was more recently brought to light.

Basically, HIIT involves alternating between short periods of very intense exercise and longer periods of low intensity exercise. For example, you might ride a stationary bike (spinning) at near maximum capacity for 30 seconds, then cycle moderately for 60 seconds, then repeat this cycle 5 to 10 times, with a 3-5 minute warm up and a 3-5 minute cool down. HIIT can be used for both aerobic and anaerobic workouts.

Read about exercise recovery and muscle growth

SIT: The 1-minute/10-minute exercise

Now there is SIT, or Sprint Interval Training. It is sometimes promoted as a one-minute exercise, but in reality it takes 10 minutes, but only 1 minute involves vigorous activity. Here’s how it works:

  • 2-minute warmup

  • 20-second all-out effort (vigorous exercise)

  • 2-minute recovery (moderate exercise)

  • Another 20-second all-out effort

  • Another 2-minute recovery

  • Final 20-second all-out effort

  • 3-minute cooldown

The total amount of high-intensity exercise is only 1 minute.

The benefits of SIT were examined in a recent study in which researchers compared SIT with moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) and their impact on insulin sensitivity and other factors associated with cardiovascular/cardiometabolic health in sedentary men.

In the study, the men performed all of their exercise on a bicycle three times a week for 12 weeks. Those in the SIT group performed their exercise as described above. In the MICT group, the men warmed up for 2 minutes, cycled for 45 minutes at moderate intensity, and finished with a 3-minute cooldown.

Cardiovascular health indicators were similar in both groups; that is:

  • Peak oxygen uptake increased by 10% in both groups

  • Insulin sensitivity rose similarly in both groups

  • Skeletal muscle mitochondrial content increased the same in both groups

  • Body mass index did not change among the MICT volunteers but did decline a mean of 1 point in the SIT group

  • Percentage of body fat dropped a mean of 2 percent in both groups

  • Weight loss was a mean of 2 kg (4.4 lb) in the MICT group and 1 kg (2.2 lb) in the SIT group

For now, the research has been done in men only, but studies in women can’t be far behind. At this point, it appears that 1 minute of intense exercise couched in 9 minutes of moderate effort provides health benefits similar to those of 50 minutes of moderate exercise.

Are you ready to SIT?

Does SIT sound like an exercise routine you’d like to try? First, I want to mention that everyone should check with their healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have not exercised in a while. SIT involves all-out effort that may be too stressful for some people.

Once you are ready to go, choose your exercise. SIT can be accomplished with or without equipment. For example, you can incorporate all-out effort while:

  • Jogging or running

  • Spinning

  • Rowing

  • Using a treadmill or elliptical machine

  • Jumping rope

  • Swimming

  • Using a Lynx Board

What’s a Lynx Board? It’s a fitness device that “responds to your body weight by increasing the intensity of the workout proportionately to the pressure you exert,” which makes it a great fit for SIT. Although it looks similar to an exercise glider or slider, it has a special friction surface that allows you to safety and efficiently perform training on core stability, balance, coordination, posture, and mobility within a 360-degree range of motion.

The design of the Lynx Board allows you to easily maintain control of your movements as you practice both SIT and HIIT routines. You can perform exercises from standing, kneeling, and seated positions and, according to David Morin, a founder of Lynx Fitness, “The beauty of the lynx board is that most, if not all of the impact is eliminated, thus preventing higher risk of injury.” Tests have shown that the board is safe for elderly and sedentary adults and individuals who may have limited mobility.

How long will you exercise?

Experts have given us several options when it comes to how long we should exercise. If you just want to “get the job done,” then SIT or even HIIT could be your best choice. If you enjoy longer exercise sessions and/or types of physical activity that require more commitment and/or are engaged in competitive activities, then these shorter forms may not be what you want or could be something you do occasionally.

Whichever choice you make, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regimen, especially SIT or HIIT, as they involve a level of activity that may be much more vigorous than you have done previously. Anyone new to SIT or HIIT should start at a slower pace and gradually increase intensity. Remember—have fun!

American College of Sports Medicine. High-intensity interval training
Gillen JB et al. Twelve weeks of sprint interval training improves indices of cardiometabolic health similar to traditional endurance training despite a five-fold lower exercise volume and time commitment. PLoS One, published online April 26, 2016
Lynx Fitness
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Physical activity guidelines
The past, present and future of interval training

Image: Oregon State University

By Deborah Mitchell| February 13, 2017
Categories:  Live

About the Author

Deborah Mitchell

Deborah Mitchell

Deborah is a freelance health writer who is passionate about animals and the environment. She has authored, co-authored, and written more than 50 books and thousands of articles on a wide range of topics. Currently she lives in Tucson, Arizona. Visit her at

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