The evidence is mounting: Exercising in short bursts when you don’t have time for a full workout can still significantly improve your overall fitness.
A recent Arizona State University study determined that three 10-minute walks spread throughout the day are more effective for controlling high blood pressure than the traditional 30-minute continuous workout. For people with a busy lifestyle, additional research at Oregon State University is equally encouraging. Even one- or two-minute chunks of exercise—taking the stairs, doing chores, or walking briskly across a parking lot—can achieve the same results, as long as the activities add up to 30 minutes per day.
“Squeezing in a few minutes whenever you can is definitely worth it,” says Caroline Kiebl, a Beverly Hills yoga instructor who also teaches at resorts in Bali, Costa Rica, India, and Brazil. “If you’re cramped in a chair all day, yoga activates your breathing system and stretches and strengthens all the major muscle groups.
“Deep breathing also relaxes the mind and reduces stress. Instead of grabbing another cup of coffee, yoga can really energize you,” she adds.
The kind of exercise you do isn’t as important as actually doing it. Gene Kobilansky, a wrestling coach at New York University, prefers a simple sprinting routine when he is on the road. He recommends jogging for one to two minutes to warm up. “Next, pick an object in the distance that will take approximately 30 seconds to reach by sprinting. Run! Jog for about 10 seconds, then pick another object in the distance. Run! Repeat seven to 10 times. Jog for another minute to cool down.”
If you don’t want to go outside, try this 10-minute “MetaBoost” workout from Valerie Orsoni, author of "Le Personal Coach: A French Trainer’s Simple Secrets for Getting Fit & Slim Without the Gym."
Orsoni’s MetaBoost: Warm up by marching in place for one minute, then do 20 jumping jacks, 20 side-to-side leaps, 20 long jumps, 20 side jumps, do hopscotch 20 times, regular speed walk for one minute, frog jumps for one minute, power walk for one minute, another regular speed walk for one minute, and cool down with a final minute of marching in place.
Orsoni believes in multitasking. Many daily mundane chores and activities present opportunities to squeeze in bonus abdominal crunches.
“Contract your abs as often as you think about it. This is your secret to a flat tummy,” she says. “Simply suck in your lower abs—just above the belt—and then continue to your middle and upper abs. Hold your ab contraction for one full minute.”
Doing housework? “Suck in your abs!” suggests Orsoni. “Sitting at your child’s school play? Suck in your abs! Reading this article? Suck in your abs!”
It might sound silly at first, but even brushing your teeth can present an exercise opportunity. Jean Marcey, founder of Wilderness Wellness Retreats in Eagle River, Alaska, recommends the “Sonicare Workout,” named after her favorite electric toothbrush.
“The Sonicare toothbrush runs for two minutes, in 30-second intervals,” she explains. “During each 30-second interval, one can do squats, split squats (30 seconds each leg), and sumo squats.”
“It’s not a lot,” she adds. “But if you brush your teeth two or three times a day, those two minutes add up and at least you’re moving!”
“Association Between Biologic Outcomes and Objectively Measured Physical Activity Accumulated in <10-Minute Bouts and >10-Minute Bouts” by P.D. Loprinzi and B.J. Cardinal, American Journal of Health Promo, 1–2/13
“Effects of Fractionized and Continuous Exercise on 24-h Ambulatory BloodPressure” by D.M. Bhammar et al., Med Sci Sports Exerc, 12/12
Personal Communication: Caroline Kiebl, Gene Kobilansky, Jean Marcey, Valerie Orsoni, 11/13