Why speed sessions are just as good as long runs when it comes to your health

There’s an age-old debate when it comes to how best to look after your body – are short bursts of energy better than prolonged exercise? According to research, they are both as good as each other, and here’s why.

A new study, conducted by the Duke University School of Medicine, and scientists from the National Cancer Institute found that running a quick 5K on your lunchbreak a few times a week can be as beneficial as one long, prolonged run at the weekend. The study revealed that short bursts of exercise are just as beneficial as longer workouts when it comes to long-term health.

According to the NHS, adults between 19 and 64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week. They advise that the 150 minutes are broken down into 30-minute segments and that we should also be trying to fit strength exercises into our routine.

In the study, scientists set out to find out which form of exercise had long term benefits – whether the same amount of moderate-to-vigorous activity was better in shorter bouts, or longer sporadic sessions.

The scientists analysed 4,840 people aged 40 and older, with data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2003 and 2006. By 2011, 700 of the participants had already died. The physical activity data was processed to generate minutes per day of total moderate-to-vigorous activity.

Unsurprisingly, the study concluded that risk of mortality or developing disease was greatly reduced with physical exercise. Yet interestingly, the mortality risk reductions associated with moderate-to-vigorous activity were independent of how the activity is accumulated.

Whilst the key message remains the same - exercise is important for your long-term health, this flexibility is thought to be particularly useful for individuals who are amongst the least active. No, you don’t need to try and build up to running a half-marathon in order to live longer, a couple of short, fast jogs around the park are just as effective.

If you need help running your first mile, or training for your first 5K, have a look at the beginners' section of our site to help get you started.