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Move a little or move a lot?

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Move a little or move a lot?

To gain insight for this post, we interviewed William Kraus, MD, the Richard and Pat Johnson Distinguished University Professor of Cardiovascular Genomics at Duke University.

Most of us have heard “get moving to get healthy.” Park farther away. Take the stairs. Skip the drive through. Just move more, right?


The American Heart Association recommends adults set a weekly physical activity goal of:

  • 150 minutes of moderate activity or
  • 75 minutes of vigorous activity

That translates into about 30 minutes of heart-rate raising activity at least 5 days a week. If you can’t manage all 30 minutes at once, experts recommend breaking the time up into at least 10-minute sessions.

But when was the last time a brisk walk from the back of the parking lot took you 10 minutes? Have you ever wondered if that extra bit of movement “counts” toward your activity goals?

A team of scientists, including Dr. William Kraus of the Duke University School of Medicine, decided to find out. They asked the question many of us have wondered at one point or another – do short bursts of activity add up to better health? We talked to Dr. Kraus about the research and what it tells us.

Tell us about your research.

Dr. Kraus: We wanted to see whether short bouts of exercise could offer the same benefits as longer bouts (10 or more minutes). We studied the risk of chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, and death.

How short is short?

Dr. Kraus: Pretty short! We looked at increments of exercise as short as one minute.

What did you learn?

Dr. Kraus: The takeaway is this: All movement adds up to something good.

It doesn’t matter whether you get exercise in short bursts of a few minutes or longer periods of time. We found that all moderate and vigorous activity can count toward reducing your risk of death. People who find time for at least 30 minutes of activity most days of the week, no matter how they do the math, should see a reduced risk of death, according to our research.

If you haven’t been active and start exercising, you will benefit the most from adding in small bouts of activity. In our study, that group cut their death risk by more than half! But even if you’re already active, adding more movement will still add more benefit.
And, yes, this is a case where more is better.

What should we do now?

Dr. Kraus: The first step is choosing to be active. Set a goal to move some every hour. Then look for easy ways to get extra activity throughout your day. Some ideas could be to:

  • Choose the stairs over the elevator
  • Use a bathroom on another floor
  • Park further away from the building
  • Get off the bus one stop earlier
  • Walk and talk with a friend (or pet!)
  • Walk into the coffee store, pharmacy, or grocery store to shop—resist using drive-throughs

I tell my patients to aim for at least 10,000 steps a day. I believe if people set this as a goal, they’re going to get the minimum recommended exercise in a week.

When do we start?

Dr. Kraus: The sooner the better. Our study looked at adults over age 40, but other research has confirmed that exercise is important for everyone.

Now we have even more evidence that every little bit of exercise helps. How will you move more this week?


Kraus portraitWilliam Kraus, MD, is the Richard and Pat Johnson Distinguished University Professor of Cardiovascular Genomics at Duke University.

Read full bio.