Are Short Workouts Effective? Bursts of Activity Can Reduce Risk of Death and Diseases, Study Says

Passengers walking the stairs in a subway station in Japan. A new study reveals that short bouts of activity can help you live longer. Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Finally, some health news you'll want to hear: A new study shows that engaging in small bursts of exercise throughout the day, like taking the stairs, can help you live longer.

Traditionally it was thought that exercise must be performed for at least 30 minutes, at least five days each week, for reduced risk of disease, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines for physical activity. But a study published this month in the Journal of the American Heart Association revealed you don't even need to exercise to reap the health benefits of physical activity.

Related: Just 10 Minutes of Exercise Can Supercharge Your Brain

Researchers at Duke University noticed a discrepancy between common advice for increasing activity, like parking farther from your house, and the guidelines for fitness. They aimed to address whether these oft-touted tips for extra activity were beneficial in similar ways to excercise.

"For about 30 years, guidelines have suggested that moderate-to-vigorous activity could provide health benefits, but only if you sustained the activity for 10 minutes or more," study co-author Dr. William Kraus, of Duke University's medical school, said in a statement. "That flies in the face of public health recommendations, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and parking farther from your destination. Those don't take 10 minutes, so why were they recommended?"

So Kraus's team analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a prior study conducted between 2003 and 2006. It included data from 4,840 people who wore accelerometers to calculate their physical activity and exertion. Then the team looked at how many of the study participants were still alive in 2011 using a national database. Everyone in the study was at least 40 years old during the time of the original study.

The findings revealed that exercise didn't need to be done at once, so long as activity was performed at a moderate to vigorous pace.

Those who racked up less than 20 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity daily had the highest risk of early death. However, people who moved at least 100 minutes per day cut their risk by 76 percent.

Although the study indicates that more activity is better, it also suggests that you may be able to swap that trip to the gym for a few extra flights of stairs.