Just a single minute of exercise each day for women is linked to benefits including a reduced risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures in older age.
Sometimes it seems that the road to good health goes in the exact opposite direction of the road to pleasure. Like, what kind of cruel fate is it that french fries lead to early death, while torturing oneself at the gym leads to longevity?
But good health can come in attractive packages – chocolate, coffee, wine, thank heavens – and now new research reveals potential health benefits from the relatively painless act of exercising for a mere 60 seconds.
Scientists found that women who did "brief bursts" of high-intensity, weight-bearing activity – like a medium-paced run for pre-menopausal women, or a slow jog for post-menopausal women – had better bone health. Good bone health has a number of important health perks, including a reduced risk of osteoporosis and fractures in older age.
Using the national and international health resource, UK Biobank, the University of Exeter and University of Leicester researchers looked at data on more than 2,500 women. They concluded that women who did 60 to 120 seconds of high-intensity, weight-bearing activity per day had 4 percent better bone health than those who did less than a minute.
"We don't yet know whether it's better to accumulate this small amount of exercise in bits throughout each day or all at once, and also whether a slightly longer bout of exercise on one or two days per week is just as good as 1-2 minutes a day," says lead author Dr Victoria Stiles, of the University of Exeter.
"But there's a clear link between this kind of high-intensity, weight-bearing exercise and better bone health in women.”
The data was taken from wrist monitors worn for a week and was broken down second by second.
"We wanted to make every second count in our analysis, because short snippets of high-intensity activity are more beneficial to bone health than longer, continuous periods," Stiles says. "We were careful not to ignore short bursts of activity throughout the day."
In addition to finding an increase of 4 percent better bone health for the one-to-two-minute-daily exercisers, they found even better results for those who did more than two minutes of high-intensity, weight-bearing exercise a day; those women showed 6 percent better bone health.
Styles says that for first-time runners, the UK's National Osteoporosis Society recommends increasing walking first.
"Further on,” she says, “we would suggest adding a few running steps to the walk, a bit like you might if you were running to catch a bus."
While 4 to 6 percent better bone health might not seem wildly significant, I’d argue that any achievement that inspires an uptick in health is valuable. All the little efforts add up – and it just goes to show, good health doesn’t have to be all that difficult.
The paper was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.