Scientists tested the activity levels of more than 4500 men and women and discovered that when it comes to keeping weight down, every minute counts.
Numerous short bouts of heart and lung-working activity, such as taking the stairs instead of a lift, had the same effect as less frequent longer exercising.
The research was carried out by attaching accelerometers to the volunteers, devices which measure movement and activity.
Jessie Fan, professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah, said: "What we learned is that for preventing weight gain, the intensity of the activity matters more than duration.
"Knowing that even short bouts of 'brisk' activity can add up to a positive effect is an encouraging message for promoting better health."
Almost two-thirds (61.1%) of women in Scotland are overweight, including 27.8% who are obese, according to official figures. Guidelines recommend adults do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most days of the week but only one-third of women (33%) do that.
The new study found that, for women, each daily minute spent in higher-intensity short bouts of activity was associated with a Body Mass Index (BMI) reduction of 0.07.
BMI is calculated by dividing a person's weight in pounds by their height in feet squared.
Every briskly active minute offset the calorie equivalent of 0.41lb, according to the researchers.
Comparing two women of 5ft 5in, the one who regularly adds a minute of brisk activity to her day will weigh nearly half a pound less, they said.
Results were similar for men. Each daily minute of higher-intensity activity lowered the likelihood of being obese by 2% for men and 5% for women.
The findings appear in the American Journal of Health Promotion.