by Women's Health Medically Reviewed by Dr. C.H. Weaver M.D. Updated 11/2021
Life is busy. Between work and family obligations, it can be hard to find a 30-minute time slot for exercise every day—but what if you could get the exercise you needed in 10-minute increments instead?
According to researchers from the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University, three 10-minute workouts may be even more beneficial for your heart than one 30-minute session. That’s good news for your health and your schedule.
The researchers were looking for an effective way to help people fit exercise into their lives. They gathered a group of adults who were generally healthy, but who had a condition called prehypertension, which is characterized by early symptoms of high blood pressure. Prehypertension can lead to high blood pressure, which is one of the primary risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Prehypertension responds well to exercise—but many people have difficulty finding time for 30-minute exercise sessions, the commonly recommended exercise standard.
Fractionized Versus Continuous Exercise
That’s where fractionized exercise may come in handy. Fractionized exercise refers to shorter exercise sessions that are repeated throughout the day—and it may be a more realistic approach for some people who can’t find time for continuous exercise, which refers to one longer exercise session.
To compare fractionized and continuous exercise, the researchers had volunteers walk briskly—at about 75 percent maximum heart rate—for 10 minutes three times during the day. On a different day, the same volunteers walked briskly for 30 minutes. And finally, on another day, the volunteers did not exercise at all. During the study, the participants wore cuffs that monitored blood pressure continuously for 24 hours at a time.
Fractionized Exercise and Blood Pressure
It’s no surprise that exercise was helpful in controlling blood pressure—but what was interesting is that the fractionized exercise appeared to be a better strategy for blood pressure control. In fact, the approach led to lower average 24-hour blood pressure. In other words, the shorter exercise sessions reduced blood pressure during the day and evening—and the following day.
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What’s more, the fractionized exercise resulted in lower blood pressure “load”, which refers to the number of times during the day when blood pressure spiked above 140/90. This is important because high blood pressure load is often a risk factor that indicates that prehypertension will progress to high blood pressure.
Why the benefit from just 10 minutes of exercise? It turns out that walking—even briefly—lowers blood pressure after each session. Translated, that means walking more frequently provides a more pronounced reduction in blood pressure.
Using Fractionized Exercise
In terms of heart health, short bursts of exercise are enough to make a difference. Of course, this approach won’t make you a professional athlete—but it will make you healthier.
If you can’t find 30 minutes for a brisk walk, find 10 minutes—three times. The key word is brisk—you should be able to talk in brief sentences with some huffing and puffing in between.
Create 10-minute walking breaks in your day:
- Brain break: Take a 10-minute brain break from your desk. You’ll reap exercise benefits and return mentally prepared to work.
- Lunch break: Take 10 minutes from your lunch break and walk around the block.
- Wait time: Waiting for your kids to finish soccer practice? Start walking.
- Commute: Park a little farther away from work to build in a 10-minute walk on both ends of your day.
- Bhammar DM, Angadi SS, Gaesser GA. Effects of fractionized and continuous exercise on 24-h ambulatory blood pressure. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2012; 44(12): 2270-2276.