The benefits of micro-exercise and expert advice on how to get started in just 20 seconds
No time to work out? Small exercises can help change that.
Installing a clock fromIt may seem impossible in your busy day, but proponents of micro-workouts say they provide a way to work out in more manageable chunks.
Micro-workouts are “a relatively small commitment in terms of time and intensity for a relatively large reward,” explains Walter Jerga, a former professional athlete and co-founder and head of wellness at fitness app Zing Coach.
What are micro exercises?
Also called mini-workouts or exercise “snacks,” mini-workouts involve short bursts of movement, performed several times daily, that add up to a larger overall workout.
“Ideally, we want to build up 15 minutes or more and spread those 15 minutes out throughout the day,” says Jirga. “There is substantial research showing that this type of very short but high-intensity burst has a profound impact on our physiology, on our health, and on all kinds of fitness markers.”
Jirga says mini workouts can fall into two categories: workouts that last 20 to 60 seconds, or sessions that last a little longer, about 3 to 7 minutes.
“It has to be longer than 20 seconds, otherwise the efficiency will be very minimal, but it is a short period of relatively intense movement and intense exercise,” he explains. For example, this might look like walking up the stairs for 20 seconds or jogging in place for a minute.
He also doesn’t recommend stretching for more than 10 minutes if you’re aiming for a mini-workout, because that length of time “involves a more consistent effort,” he explains.
Benefits of micro-exercise
The first—and perhaps most obvious—advantage of micro-exercise is fitting some movement into your day.
Even with just 3 to 7 minutes, Jirga says you can take a “mini-trip in the three main areas of fitness,” which are cardiovascular, muscular, and flexibility.
For example, you could structure your partial workout to consist of a few minutes of push-ups, squats, or crunches for strength, a few minutes of cardio like jumping jacks, and a few minutes of stretching for mobility.
“You get instant coverage of all the important aspects of fitness and well-being in a very short period of time,” he says.
Research has also indicated benefitsFrom vigorous activity throughout the day.
An observational study published in JAMA Oncology last year found that doing four to five minutes a day of “vigorous intermittent physical activity — such as brisk walking for one or two minutes or climbing stairs — is associated with cancer.”Compared to those who did not engage in such activity. Even a brisk walk — for 5 minutes every half hour — throughout the day can go a long way for your health.
Other benefits of micro-workouts include the ability to do them practically anywhere, since they don’t require a lot of equipment or space, and they can help you achieve more long-term performance..
“Starting with a small commitment is often much more effective than jumping completely into a (larger) activity (or) gym membership,” Jerga explains. “The moment you feel comfortable with just a few minutes (that) you can control inside your home or office, suddenly creating the habit becomes much easier.”
Tips for starting small workouts
Integrate it into daily life:
Whether you’re sitting at your desk, doing housework, or watching TV (hello,!), movement can be sprinkled into your typical routine.
For example, if you dedicate just one minute out of every hour of your workday to doing push-ups or sit-ups, you can easily reach hundreds of repetitions by the end of your shift.
“This is a big muscle workout, especially for someone who doesn’t normally train,” says Jirga. “And I did it without any obligation at all.”
During his last appearance onDiscussing heart health, Dr. John Lubbock, chief medical correspondent for CBS News, talked about a similar way to “hack” movement into your day.
“If you’re commuting to work, how about commuting 10 blocks before work and then walking? If you’re taking the elevator to the 22nd floor, take it seven floors below that and walk,” he suggested. “Make it so that you don’t say, ‘Okay, now I have to exercise’ — exercise just becomes an integral part of the way you live your life.”
Set your exercise “menu”:
Jirga suggests preparing a “list of exercises” that you can do safely and in the environment and clothing you will wear.
“Don’t improvise,” he says. “Test that you can do this exercise and it is physiologically comfortable for you.”
If you’re looking to increase the intensity of your micro workouts, you can try more challenging moves like burpees or incorporating a pair of dumbbells or elastic exercise bands.