New research suggests even just walking for a few minutes at a time can help your health.
Credit: Photo: Oli Kellett / Getty

Like many people, I’m always secretly hoping that the cheeseburger I ate for lunch will be magically eradicated if I take the stairs once or twice. But, like many others, I just know that exercise must be completed in a miserable, long slog at the gym with cursing involved. Right?

Well, not according to a new study published in  the Journal of the American Heart Association. The study, as reported by the New York Times, found that whether you walk ten minutes three times, three minutes ten times, or thirty minutes once (say that three times fast!), the effects are the same. In short, the cumulative effect of even micro-spurts of movement are just as effective as a longer session.

We all know that we need to exercise for a cumulative total of 150 minutes a week. The 2008  federal guidelines, according to the Times, also recommend that activity be done in sessions of ten minutes in length. This new study gives lie to that recommendation.

But what backs up this (new) claim? The JAHA study pulled its data from the National Nutrition Health and Examination Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control. This study has been conducted since the 1960s and annually collects data from a representative sample of approximately 5,000 people. The kicker for this study is that the NNHES puts fitness trackers on its subjects, eliminating the common problem in studies like these: that people often misreport their level of physical activity.

The most exciting of the study’s conclusions was that it is safe for medical practitioners to promote “either long single or multiple shorter bouts of activity in advising adults how to progress toward 150 min/wk of moderate‐to‐vigorous physical activity.” The even better news is that these small spurts of activity may be most useful for those individuals who are the least active and the most prone to chronic illness. So, those that need activity most can reap the most benefit from an easy, non-intimidating way to get those steps in.

The takeaway? This is GOOD news! That extra flight of stairs or walk from a far-away parking space really do add up. As for me, I’m probably going to need more than a few flights of stairs if I want to enjoy cheeseburgers, but hey, at least I know they matter.