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Is 20 Minutes Enough?

Posted 11/20/2017 by UHBlog

Having trouble fitting exercise into your busy schedule? Ask us how to maximize your effort with minimal time.

Woman and man on treadmils

Respected health groups, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and American College of Sports Medicine, recommend adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a week, which translates to just under 22 minutes per day.

Is that really all it takes to achieve results?

“Potentially,” says physical therapist Benjamin Geletka. “Twenty minutes of exercise at moderate intensity may be enough for the average person, but athletes who are looking to perform better probably need 300 to 450 minutes per week of training specificity based on the activity they’re training for.”

Certainly, exercising 150 minutes each week results in some physical and mental health benefits. Those benefits increase when the time is doubled, Geletka says. Working out helps with weight loss and maintenance, and those who exercise tend to live longer than those who are sedentary. So, whatever time a person devotes to fitness is better than the time they spend sitting at a desk or in front of the TV.

Still, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of whether 20 minutes per day is enough exercise. In general, Geletka says people who only have 20 minutes a day to exercise can maximize their time by:

  • Blending moderate – and high-intensity moves that mimic the warm-up and cool-down of a more traditional workout. For example, walk briskly for several minutes before transitioning to a jog or run and end with another brisk walk. Or vary speed and intensity on a treadmill or stationary bike.
  • Breaking up exercise into two or three 10-minute sessions if it's impossible to do 20 minutes at once.
    “Sometimes, if you do 10 minutes at a clip three times a day, it's been shown to better control blood pressure numbers versus doing 30 minutes at a time,” Geletka says.
  • Using coffee breaks and lunch hours to stroll outside or, during inclement weather, through the halls and up and down stairs.
    “Sometimes, it can make you feel more refreshed and energized so you can focus on your tasks,” Geletka says. “If you tend to sit at a desk, it's important for your musculoskeletal system, in general, to move around. Repetitive motions (like working at a computer) can lead to aches, pains and injuries.”
  • Adjusting diet if weight-loss is the goal. Not everyone burns off the same number of calories at rest, but, in general, exercising 20 minutes a day without altering nutrition probably won't be enough to shed unwanted pounds.
    “It's a simple equation: Intake needs to be less than output,” Geletka says. “So, if you eat 2,000 calories a day, but only exercise enough to burn off 1,000 calories, you're going to put on weight.”
  • Acknowledging the 20-minutes-a-day guideline pertains to cardiovascular exercise only. It's still important to include strength-training exercises twice a week.

When it comes to children, 20 minutes a day of exercise is not nearly enough. According to Geletka, kids should be active for at least 60 minutes per day. In addition to respiratory and bone-strengthening benefits, fitness helps kids stave off disease and boost self-esteem.

Benjamin Geletka, PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT, is a physical therapist at University Hospitals Avon Health Center. You can request an appointment with Geletka or any other health care provider online.

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