The Benefits of 10 Minutes of Moderate to Vigorous Activity Daily

Research suggests adding 10 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day could prevent more than 110,000 deaths yearly.

If most people added just 10 extra minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, annual deaths would decrease by more than 110,000, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2022. The study used accelerometers—also known as activity trackers—to estimate how more physical activity could prevent deaths.

Two people riding bikes across bridge in the evening

Isaac Lane Koval / Stocksy

It's not a novel idea that more physical activity can add years to your life. Exercise helps reduce the risk of chronic diseases and prevent early death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly.

But for many, those 150 minutes—which, realistically, amounts to 30 minutes a day, five days a week—is a challenging target. In 2020, the CDC reported that more than 25% of people in the United States are not regularly physically active.

While the 2022 study focused on deaths at a population level, the researchers said its conclusions apply to your everyday life. Here's what you need to know about those extra ten minutes of exercise—including how to incorporate them into your routine.

What the Research Says About Moderate to Vigorous Exercise

In the 2022 study, researchers looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Between 2003 and 2006, NHANES participants were asked to wear an accelerometer to track their physical activity for seven days. The researchers looked at 4,840 adults aged 40 to 85 or older with that accelerometer data. 

The researchers also used the National Death Index to determine the participants who died and when.

"We've known from more previous work that exercise is good for us, so it was truly interesting to translate that to a specific metric and learn about the global benefits of making everyone a bit more active," Pedro F. Saint-Maurice, PhD, a research fellow at the NCI and lead author of the study, told Health.

The researchers then created hypothetical situations of increases in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA)—what would happen if people added 10, 20, or 30 more minutes to their activity levels? And they examined how those increases might affect mortality rates. 

The results were significant: Adding 10 minutes of MVPA per day could prevent 111,174 deaths yearly. That number rose to 209,459 deaths prevented with an extra 20 minutes per day and 272,297 deaths with an additional 30 minutes daily.

The Benefits of Short Bouts of Physical Activity

Many studies have shown that doing short exercise segments has many health benefits. Those benefits include:

  • Improved circulation and heart function
  • Lower levels of cholesterol, insulin, blood sugar, and blood pressure
  • Less inflammation
  • Lower risk of death

Finding exercises that you enjoy enough to keep doing them regularly is critical.

How To Add More Movement to Your Daily Routine

While the researchers examined exercise increases in ten-minute increments, "analyses suggest that every minute of exercise counts and that every minute adds up to have a benefit," David Berrigan, PhD, MPH, a biologist the NCI and co-author of the research letter, told Health.

And if it has been a while since you've been active, the 2022 study gives you the go-ahead to start small.

"For someone who doesn't exercise a lot, making a big change can feel insurmountable," Mercedes Carnethon, PhD, professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, told Health. "People have to feel empowered like they can actually make a change. And small increments of moderate or vigorous activity are far less disruptive to people's days."

"The best indication you're doing a moderate or vigorous activity is being relatively short of breath, where you'd struggle to maintain a conversation," Carnethon added.

Then, whatever form of physical activity you choose, you'll want to stick with it. 

"People successful in building habits integrate them into their lifestyle at a time and place that's going to work for them," explained Carnethon. "It's best to couple it with something you know for sure you'll do every day." 

For example, if you already have a habit of getting up at 6 AM and having breakfast at 7 AM, set a goal of exercising for 10 minutes between waking up and eating.

You can also use your environment to complete more physical activity instead of a dedicated exercise routine. Here are some examples to get you started:

  • Park your car farther away from the store and briskly walk around the parking lot.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
  • Get off the bus or subway at an earlier stop and walk the extra distance.
  • Do some gardening during a work break or lunch break if you work at home or the end of the day when getting home from work.
  • Ride a stationary bike while watching television.

Whatever you do, "Know that those ten minutes count," Saint-Maurice said. "It's a small improvement, but if you start there, it's easier to keep going and add more."

What To Do if Aren't Able to (Or Don't Want To) Exercise More

It's important to know that you can benefit from any activity if you move more and sit less. So those who either can't exercise or don't enjoy exercising can still reap the benefits.

"Any exercise is good for you, and everything counts," Saint-Maurice said. "What's important is to find what works best for you."

If you don't like exercising, or you want to mix things up, it's crucial to find an activity you enjoy, like: 

  • Cycling
  • Hiking or Nordic walking
  • Dancing
  • Really, anything that moves your muscles 

The National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability (NCHPAD) has a list of exercise-from-home videos for those with physical limitations. Or, you can participate in the NCHPAD's free web-based exercise program for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions.

A Quick Review

For people who don't have time for (or enjoy) long exercise sessions, the good news is that more minor bouts of exercise can also improve health. 

Not only is it less overwhelming to start with small exercise segments, but it's easier to fit them into your day. It may be easier to maintain the activity long-term, which is needed to reap health benefits like lower cholesterol, blood sugar, or blood pressure. 

If you're still unsure where to start, talk to your healthcare provider about the best exercise options.

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  1. Saint-Maurice PF, Graubard BI, Troiano RP, et al. Estimated Number of Deaths Prevented Through Increased Physical Activity Among US AdultsJAMA Intern Med. 2022;182(3):349-352. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2021.7755

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How much physical activity do adults need?.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adult physical inactivity prevalence maps by race/ethnicity.

  4. Jakicic JM, Kraus WE, Powell KE, et al. Association between Bout Duration of Physical Activity and Health: Systematic ReviewMed Sci Sports Exerc. 2019;51(6):1213-1219. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001933

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