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Finding time to exercise can create added stress as holiday chaos approaches. Here’s the good news: You don’t need an hour to do it.

Better fitness in 10 minutes or less sounds like an infomercial scam, but recent research has shown that short bouts of physical activity sprinkled throughout the day can have big benefits when performed correctly.

Experts say brisk walking, jumping rope, stair climbing, high-intensity interval workouts and other quick hits of activity that get the body moving and the heart rate up can bring positive results ranging from reduced blood pressure and anxiety to improved sleep quality and focus.

“All activity counts," says Martin Gibala, a kinesiology professor at McMaster University in Ontario. “Your heart doesn’t know if you are running, biking or climbing the stairs. And physical activity doesn’t have to be structured exercise. Dancing, playing with your kids or walking to the subway all count, especially if you up the intensity."

Dr. Gibala co-wrote a 2022 study that showed that “exercise snacks," or isolated vigorous exercise lasting under one minute and performed three to eight times throughout the day, can improve cardiovascular fitness and reduce your risk of high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar.

Exercise snacks can eliminate barriers such as the cost of a gym, the need for equipment and the time to get to a fitness facility or even change into gym clothes. The key to making them count is to push the intensity to a vigorous level, Dr. Gibala says. A brisk-paced walk like you would use not to miss your bus is considered moderate intensity, while a jog or run is vigorous, he says.

Public-health agencies, including the World Health Organization, generally suggest that adults do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity to promote health. Experts used to recommend at least 10 minutes at a time. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services updated its physical-activity guidelines in 2018 to say that any length of time could work.

How many quick hits do you need to make a real difference in your health? A study published in October in the European Heart Journal showed that approximately 15 to 20 minutes of vigorous activity a week accrued through short bouts resulted in a 16% to 40% lower mortality rate in study subjects. That is putting in just over two minutes of vigorous movement a day.

Short bouts of exercise can be particularly effective for people new to a fitness routine, says John Jakicic, a professor of physical activity and weight management at the University of Kansas Medical Center. He notes that according to research, brief spells of activity might enhance exercise adherence, promote weight loss and help curb hunger.

“We need to get away from an all-or-nothing approach and embrace a philosophy of something is better than nothing," he says.

“If you tell someone to do 30 minutes of exercise and they don’t see a 30-minute opening on their calendar, they probably won’t do it," adds Dr. Jakicic. “If you tell them to try to go on three 10-minute walks, they can usually carve out time to do at least one."

Walking is one of the easiest ways to move more, but Dr. Gibala says strength training is also important. To work your muscles and get your heart rate up, he suggests high-intensity circuits of body-weight exercises such as squats, lunges or push-ups. These can be done in a small office space, hotel room or at home, he adds.

Will you see performance gains from exercise snacks? Probably not, says Neal Pire, an exercise physiologist at the Gym in Englewood, N.J. “If you’re training for a marathon, you need to log the miles," he says. “Or if you’re trying to improve your tennis game, you need to put in time on the court. Performance training has to be specific."

And if you are looking to shed pounds, diet must be a factor, Dr. Jakicic says. “You can eat through your exercise bout with one candy bar," he cautions.

But for overall well-being, brief spells of fitness can improve mental and physical health, and a few 10-minute sessions a day over time can really add up, he says.

Research has also shown that incorporating four 10-minute brisk walks into your day is as effective at lowering blood pressure as 40 minutes of continuous moderate exercise. And given that American adults are sedentary for 55% of their waking hours, smaller blocks of exercise are a great way to undo the effects of sitting, screen time and desk slump.

“Prolonged sitting reduces brain blood flow, which starves the brain of the vital nutrients it needs to thrive," says Jennifer Heisz, an associate professor in kinesiology and director of the NeuroFit lab at McMaster University in Canada. Frequent breaks as short as two minutes every half-hour are enough to counteract the decreased blood flow. “When it comes to exercising for your mental health, every step counts," she says.

If you need more structure, online platforms might be the way to go. Among those that specialize in 10- to 15-minute workouts are: streaming exercise-class platform Obé Fitness; Brrrn, which offers virtual workouts that use a slide board; and Tonal, an at-home digital weight machine company.

Joe Rodonis, a New York-based coach with Tonal, says 10-minute sessions benefit beginners when it comes to building confidence and avoiding burnout. They also can help those who already have a solid baseline of fitness to maintain muscle mass.

Vanessa Martin, a trainer and founder of New York-based SIN Workouts (SIN stands for strength in numbers), challenges those skeptical of the efficiency of a 10-minute fitness burst to complete an every-minute-on-the-minute—or EMOM—drill. Her full-body, body-weight workout described below requires you to perform exercises as intensely as possible for 60 seconds.

“The excuse of not having the time, and now, not having the equipment, have been eliminated," she says.

Try a 10-minute workout

Each one-minute exercise in this circuit-style workout can burn 60 to 75 calories if executed to its full potential, Ms. Martin says.

Repeat this circuit for 60 seconds during each odd minute: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9.

20 Jumping jacks

10 Jump squats

Five burpees

Repeat this circuit for 60 seconds during each even minute: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10.

10 Sumo squats

10 Alternating reverse lunges

10 Push-ups with alternating shoulder taps

(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.)

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