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Fitness for the time-poor

The Bugle App

Heidi Gilchrist

02 June 2024, 1:30 AM

Fitness for the time-poor

Last month, I wrote about the importance of prioritising time for physical activity, and the need to treat it as a must-do rather than a luxury if we want to stay well enough to carry out all our other responsibilities. Although, statements like this can draw eye-rolling from busy people (me included) when you feel like you might have more chance getting to the moon than to the gym during the week, with all of your daily commitments. 



There is good news, however, for people who are not considered ‘regularly active’ by current World Health Organisation standards (i.e. 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity over three or more days of the week). Recent research (JAMA, 2023) has shown that people who do all of their physical activity concentrated in just one or two days each week still have the same cardiovascular benefits as those who exercised more regularly. This means that “weekend warriors”, or those who are able to do 150 minutes of exercise in just one or two outings each week, are still much better off health-wise than those who are inactive. 


Of course, there are other advantages to exercising regularly, but this flexibility in the way we can accumulate health benefits is encouraging for time-poor individuals. Another option for fitting exercise into a busy schedule could be through short bursts of vigorous physical activity during everyday life. These activities can include tasks such as carrying shopping bags, walking uphill and stair climbing. 



One recent population study (Nature Medicine, 2022) indicated that people who were classified ‘inactive’ but did three to four short (less than one minute) bursts of physical activity everyday had up to a 40 percent reduction in premature death from any cause, as well as death from cancer. Such findings are impressive and align with what we already know about the benefits of more structured high intensity exercise training (short bouts of intense activity followed by rest). This is still an emerging area of research, but for those of us who find structured physical activity unfeasible for whatever reason, this news is very welcome indeed. 


So, if getting active feels like an impossible task, don’t despair - take the stairs, go for that long Sunday walk, and remember that every little bit counts.