Do Micro Workouts Lead to Better Weight Loss?

An Arivale Hot Topic

Jennifer Lovejoy, Arivale Chief Science Officer, PhD
Jennifer Lovejoy
Arivale Chief Science Officer, PhD

Before we get to the topic of micro workouts, let’s get one important thing straight right up front: Any amount of exercise is better for you than no exercise. Repeat: Any exercise is better than none.

About Micro Workouts

OK, now that you’ve got that, let’s look at the evidence behind popular micro workouts.

The basic premise behind micro workouts is if you do some sort of high-intensity interval training for even a few minutes a day, it will “reset” your metabolism, burn fat, and basically save you the hassle of actually doing any kind of sustained exercise on a regular basis. The website mindbodygreen recently wrote about micro workouts under the eye-catching headline “Struggling to Lose Weight? It’s Time to Try Micro Workouts.”

In our time-pressured culture, it’s no surprise there’s a lot of appeal to micro workouts! Unfortunately, the evidence doesn’t really support all the claims being made.

Arivale’s Take

First, there is some science behind certain aspects of micro workouts.

It may have started with a Japanese researcher, Dr. Izumi Tabata, whose name is now associated with “Tabata workouts.” In 1996, Tabata and colleagues conducted a very small study of seven Japanese men doing high-intensity interval training: seven to eight sets of 20-second high-intensity exercise with a 10-second rest between each bout (a total of about four minutes of exercise and rest) for five days per week for six weeks. They found this regimen increased both aerobic fitness as well as anaerobic capacity (the amount of energy you can produce without relying on oxygen, which is important for athletic power in sports like cycling).

more recent study by European investigators in 26 middle-aged men similarly found that short-duration, high-intensity workouts improved aerobic fitness and also lowered blood pressure and blood sugar.

What the studies do not find is that this type of short-duration training has any impact on weight or even energy expenditure. In fact, a later study by Tabata and his colleagues found there was no difference between moderate exercise and high-intensity interval exercise on post-exercise energy expenditure or total 24-hour energy expenditure. In other words, you don’t burn any more calories after a high-intensity workout than a moderate intensity workout.

It’s also not clear that micro workouts have any impact on building muscle (although this presumably depends on the type of exercise you are doing) nor any evidence that indicates a change in mitochondrial function.

Importantly, in some of the studies showing a benefit to micro workouts, the micro workouts are being done multiple times per day so the cumulative minutes of exercise per week reach the standard minimum recommendations for health and weight-loss benefits: 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise.

While some of the claims that micro workouts are going to help with weight loss may not have strong evidence behind them, let’s not forget that key takeaway we started with: any amount of exercise is better than none. Studies have shown that three 10-minute bouts of exercise per day are as effective for weight management as a single 30-minute bout. Every minute of exercise counts and could be having some physiological benefit.

Micro workouts are not a magic bullet. But if doing them a few times a day on a regular basis gets you up and moving when you would otherwise be sitting, they are benefitting you by adding to your total weekly minutes of activity and reducing sedentary time, which is an independent risk factor for weight gain and chronic disease.

Still, your best bet for sustained weight loss is moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes per day five to six days per week.

Further Reading



[Arivale Hot Topics address health stories currently in the news. The Arivale Clinical Team’s commentary on these news articles is not a review of the scientific evidence, nor an endorsement of a specific study, and is not meant as official medical opinion.]