Some days, it feels like you can’t make it to the gym for 20 minutes, let alone a full hour. Don’t sweat it: Weight management in even very short bouts of higher-intensity physical activity—we’re talking brisk walking-level intensity here—can help keep you at a healthy weight, according to new research published in the journal The Science of Lifestyle Change. For the study, researchers looked at data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, for which the Centers for Disease Control collected the weights, heights, and activity levels of a nationally representative sample of people. Researchers took 4,511 overweight and obese adults from the survey and split them into into four categories: those who did more than 10 minutes of higher-intensity physical activity (defined as anything at least as rigorous as brisk walking) at a time; those who did less than 10 minutes of higher-intensity physical activity at a time; those who did more than 10 minutes of lower-intensity physical activity at a time, and those who did less than 10 minutes of lower-intensity physical activity at a time.
Turns out, the shorter bouts of higher-intensity activity were about as effective at lowering participants’ BMIs (minute for minute) as the longer bouts of higher-intensity activity were. Both higher-intensity activity groups also showed a smaller risk of being overweight or obese. Lower-intensity activity, however, wasn’t associated with the same health perks. “If you can do a minute here, a minute there—as long as it’s higher-intensity and it adds up to about 30 minutes, five times a week—it would still have as much of a benefit as doing at least 10 minutes at a time,” says study author Jessie X. Fan, Ph.D., a professor in the department of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah. Why? While this study didn’t look at mechanism, previous research suggests higher-intensity exercises may rev up your metabolism more—so you keep burning calories and fat even after you stop moving, says Fan, helping you in your weight management goals.