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Every Minute Counts When it Comes to Fitness

Even tiny bouts of exercise can pay off big.

By Kellee Katagi

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If we had to describe our society in one word, busy would be a strong candidate. And with our nonstop pace, exercise is often the first thing we drop out of our schedule. But research consistently shows that even small amounts of movement are valuable. Here’s how to take even a few minutes here and there and turn them into serious health gains with quick exercises.

If you have:

1 minute: Run at a medium pace.

The science: A study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that women who ran at a medium pace for just 1 to 2 minutes a day had 4 percent higher bone density than those who ran for less than a minute.

2 minutes: Do four 30-second intervals of high-intensity exercise.

The science: A 2018 study out of Australia found that just 2 minutes of high-intensity exercise benefit your mitochondria (which supply energy to cells) as much as 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise.

5 minutes: Take a walk outside.

The science: A study in Environmental Science and Technology reported that 5 minutes of walking in nature (think blue and green environments, including urban-area parks) improved self-esteem and offered other mental-health benefits. And short bursts are plenty: Returns began to diminish after 5 minutes.

In case you need more incentive to take a quick work break, an article in Cognitive Research suggested that 5 minutes of low-impact exercise after a learning session helped participants retain the information better than those who did a control activity. For reasons unknown to the researchers, the benefits were greater for women.

7 minutes: Do a full-body, high-intensity body-weight workout.

The science: Several studies, including a much-cited one in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal, indicate that 7 to 10 minutes of metabolic conditioning exercises—such as pushups, planks, jumping jacks, wall sits, lunges, triceps dips and the like—offer as many benefits as longer bouts of exercise, when performed three or four times per week. Do each exercise at a high intensity for 30 seconds, rest for 10 seconds and then move on to the next exercise. Or try this for a pre-fab 7-minute workout.

10 minutes: Do any low-impact movement.

The science: The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that roughly 10 minutes a day of easy exercise (like walking) improved cardiovascular fitness compared with a sedentary control group.

So whether you have 1 minute or 1 hour, whether you go easy or hard, the science is clear: Any movement is better than none, which means you’ll have to scratch “I don’t have the time to exercise” off your list of acceptable excuses.

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