“You can do anything for five minutes,” chirped the perky fitness instructor on the workout video I was sweating my way through last week.
Immediately, my mind raced to things I actually can’t do for five minutes: hold my breath, sprint at top speed, watch a “reality” TV show without making snide comments or changing the channel, to name a few.
Even so, her offhand comment made me ponder how our view of time changes depending on our circumstance. If we’re trying to hold a squat position, five minutes might feel more like five years. On the flip side, if we have “only” five minutes before, say, we meet up with a friend, we’re likely to chalk it up as throwaway time and use it to check our phones or putter around.
But what if we threw away the concept of throwaway time? What if we redeemed those five minutes before we had to leave the house or that three-minute commercial break, using those moments to slip in a few planks or crunches? What if I set my alarm five minutes earlier (gasp!) each morning and got my engine revving with a few jumping jacks or lunges? Would it even make a difference?
Science says “yes.” For example, a classic study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that three 10-minute bouts of exercise throughout the day deliver as many benefits as one 30-minute session. Another study in Preventive Medicine found similar results with activity bursts of six minutes or less.
Still not convinced that five minutes of an activity can affect your health or body composition? What if I challenged you to eat doughnuts for five minutes a day for the next week? I imagine you’d see body-altering results pretty quickly.
So let’s try this challenge instead: For the next seven days, see if you can unearth 20 extra minutes each day for fitness—whether it’s all at once or parsed into three minutes here, five minutes there. After all, you can do almost anything for five minutes.
Need quick-hit exercise ideas? Download Johnson & Johnson’s 7-minute Workout app. Or tell us your best time-filler fitness strategies here.
Kellee Katagi is one of those strange souls who actually enjoys working out for the sake of working out. She’s spent most of her 20-plus-year writing and editing career covering fitness, nutrition and travel, as well as outdoor sports ranging from skiing to spelunking to street luge (yes, that’s a thing).