How Long Does Your Workout Really Need to Be? Experts Explain

Sport & Activity

Regardless of the time constraints, workouts that are either bite-size or lengthy can have profound effects on your overall health.

Last updated: 27 July 2022
6 min read
How Long Does Your Workout Really Need to Be?

We can have the best intentions when it comes to our workout schedule, but sometimes life gets in the way. Yet research indicates that nearly any amount of exercise can lead to impressive health benefits.

It's well-documented that leading a physically active lifestyle can lead to a healthier and happier life, says Denise Cervantes, an ACE- and NASM-certified personal trainer and an AFAA-certified group exercise instructor.

"We know that when you exercise, it can help lower the risk of developing many long-term conditions, like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers", she says.

And the good news is that, regardless of the amount of time you can devote to a sweat session, there are proven benefits to both lengthy and short workouts.

Benefits of Lengthy Workouts

"Depending on your fitness goals and your current exercise experience, a long workout may mean something different to you than it does to other people", says Aimee Nicotera, M.S., AFAA-certified personal trainer, ACSM certified exercise physiologist and owner of Virtual Fitness Studio. In general, the average length for a longer workout would be about one hour long, she says.

"If you are an endurance athlete or a novice looking to train for your first marathon or century bike ride, long bouts of cardiovascular activity—like running and biking—will improve your performance. This would require two-hour training sessions, maybe even longer, to meet your goals", she says.

In order for a workout to be both lengthy and effective, it needs to be performed at a lower intensity than a much shorter workout session, explains Sean Ruff, M.P.Ed., a NASM performance-enhancement specialist and personal trainer.

"All of this is rooted in exercise metabolism and bioenergetics, which examines how energy is transformed through various chemical reactions as related to the changes and demands placed upon it by exercise".

  1. 1.Lengthy Workouts May Help Ward Off Chronic Diseases

    A systematic review and meta-analysis of 16 studies published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found an association between 30- to 60-minute, muscle-strengthening workouts and a reduction in severe health conditions. According to the results, adults (ages 19–97) who focused on lengthy muscle-strengthening exercises (such as resistance training, strength training, weight training and callisthenics) showed a 10–20 percent reduced risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease and cancer, where one-hour sessions were also associated with lower rates of diabetes.

    However, the authors of the review did note that further research is necessary in order to determine the optimal dose of activities.

  2. 2.Lengthy Workouts Help Treat Depression

    Exercising 150 minutes a week has been shown to have a positive impact on mental health that's comparable to pharmaceutical approaches, according to a 2021 review published by Duke University medical researchers. Other prospective studies mentioned in this review suggest that higher levels of physical activity were associated with reduced odds of developing depression and certain anxiety disorders.

  3. 3.Lengthy Workouts Increase Longevity

    Consistent, long workouts can lead to a longer life, according to a 2020 cohort study that analysed more than 400,000 adults. The results indicated that 150 to 299 minutes of moderate physical activity per week—or 75 minutes to 149 minutes of vigorous physical activity—may reduce the risk of overall mortality compared to those who do not exercise at all.

Benefits of Short Workouts

A short workout can last between 10 and 30 minutes.

"Even if you are feeling pressed for time, a shorter bout of exercise—even a 10-minute routine—is worth it", says Nicotera. While there are physical benefits, there's an important psychological one, as well.

"Being open to shorter workouts helps us to stay consistent and to create a habit of moving daily", she continues. "The bottom line is we want to move more—whenever we can, wherever we can and for however long we can".

  1. 1.Short Workouts Enhance Fitness Levels

    A 2021 study published in the International Journal of Exercise Science gathered inactive adults and divided them into two groups—one group remained sedentary while the other group was instructed to work out for 11-minute sessions that included one-minute intervals of five different movements (burpees, high knees, split squat jumps, high knees, and squat jumps) followed by 60 seconds of rest. The group that worked out completed this 11-minute session 18 times over the course of six weeks.

    The study results revealed that those who did the quick workouts showed improved VO2 max (or maximal oxygen consumption, a measurement of how much oxygen the body uses during exercise) by an average of 7 percent.

  2. 2.Short Workouts Increase Muscle Mass

    A 2020 study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise discovered that four-second, high-intensity exercises can benefit the muscles, as well as reverse any damage that may have occurred from sitting for a prolonged period of time.

    The authors studied older adults (ages 50–65) who worked out in 15-minute intervals, three times a week. Each brief workout involved four-second sprints of maximal power cycling, repeated anywhere between 15 and 30 times. At the end of the eight-week trial, the participants showed increased thigh muscle volume and total body lean mass, along with increased oxygen consumption and decreased arterial stiffness—indicating improved cardiovascular health.

  3. 3.Short Workouts Boost Heart Health

    And there's even further evidence that quick workouts can be good for the heart. For adults who fell into obese or overweight classifications, working out at least once weekly for 30 minutes improved biomarkers for cardiometabolic health, such as blood pressure and VO2 max, according to research published in PLoS One. The key? Intervals—performing three-minute intervals of hard work, followed by two minutes of recovery fostered these results.

Bottom Line

Studies indicate that both lengthy and short workouts can offer some impressive benefits. While longer exercise routines can lead to improved mental health and a longer life, quick yet intense workouts can result in increased muscle mass and better cardiovascular health.

"Regularly changing up our routines, including squeezing in shorter workouts and experimenting with longer training sessions, creates a more resilient machine that is prepared for an active, healthy life", adds Nicotera.

As a first step to determine the best workout lengths for your goals, be sure to consult with your doctor or other licensed professional to ensure you're set up for success—safely.

Words by Amy Capetta

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