These mini-workouts (just 1 to 10 minutes!) can offer big health and energy-boosting benefits.
Fact checked by Haley Mades
Someday you're going to start a running routine, you really are—but right now you currently can’t find the time, or the motivation, or the will to put on spandex. So why not have a snack instead? A workout snack, that is. Here's why exercise "snacking" can be just as effective and health-boosting, if not more so, than that typical hour-plus trip to the gym, plus the best ways to squeeze in a good workout if you only have 10 minutes, five minutes, or even just one brief minute to move.
What is exercise snacking?
This term refers to a brief bout of exercise, as short as one minute, that, if done consistently, can yield surprising health perks.
“The number one barrier to working out is lack of time,” says Martin Gibala, PhD, professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. Exercise "snacks" help you grab movement opportunities whenever you can. Many can be done in a small space in your home, don’t require equipment, and may not even make you sweat.
Emerging research shows that exercise snacks target two important components of fitness: cardiovascular health and metabolic health, both of which are linked to lower risks of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, Gibala says.
Official physical activity guidelines still recommend moderate exercise, but—good news—experts now say every minute counts and really adds up: Three 10-minute spurts of exercise are as good as one 30-minute session. And since the first minute can be the hardest, once you get started, you might just find you’re ready for a full “meal.”
So whether you have one minute or 10, here’s how to sneak in your daily activity. (Just check with your doctor before you begin any new exercise program.)
Exercise Snacks if You Have Only 1 to 5 Minutes
1 Minute of Stair Climbing
Only have one minute to spare? Take 20 seconds to go up and down a flight of stairs, and repeat three times. “Doing this regimen three times a week improves cardiorespiratory fitness by 5 to 10 percent over six weeks—the same improvement you’d see if you walked for 30 minutes three times a week,” says Jonathan Little, PhD, professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at the University of British Columbia. Climb as quickly as is safe for you: If you feel like bounding right up, great, but if a determined plod is what you can manage, that's great too.
Hourly Mini Metabolism Boosters
This will get your blood pumping without a long, drawn-out elliptical session. Set a reminder for every hour of the workday to do squats, lunges, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, or step-ups (step up and down one stair) for 20 seconds. Repeat up to eight times throughout the day.
Little’s research has shown that these brief spurts improve insulin response (and, as a result, blood sugar control) and blood flow in the legs, especially compared with sitting on your duff all day. Make your effort a 7 on a 1-to-10 scale. Meaning, go for as many squats as your tush can take without exhausting yourself.
Spaced-Out Beginner Intervals
While watching TV, get up every 10 minutes and walk in place (or march, or run) at a moderate to vigorous pace for one minute, Gibala suggests. Or do a series of modified squats onto a chair—put a pillow on the chair if dropping down into the squat is really challenging. You can also do beginner burpees: Place your hands on the floor, step back with one foot, then the other, and then step in toward your hands and stand up. Repeat for a total of four intervals.
Walk around your office, your home, or outside for five minutes. Do this as many times as you can throughout the day. Sedentary adults who took walk breaks six times during the workday boosted their mood, decreased fatigue, and had fewer food cravings than those who walked on a treadmill for 30 minutes in the morning or sat for six hours straight, a small study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found. Movement like walking enhances circulation and can increase hormones and chemicals that stimulate your brain, helping you feel more alert and energetic.
Exercise Snacks if You Have 5 to 7 Minutes: Circuits
Here are three full-body, warp-speed circuits to do when you're on a super-tight time budget, straight from Chris Ryan, CSCS, CPT, a Lululemon Studio trainer and personal trainer in New York City. Warning: You will get sweaty, so make sure you’re not hopping on a Zoom call right away.
Circuit Workout #1
Hold a high plank (a push-up position with elbows straight) for 30 seconds.
Do modified push-ups (from your knees) for 30 seconds.
Do squats for 30 seconds.
Repeat for five to seven minutes.
Circuit Workout #2
March in place with high knees for 20 seconds.
Hold a high plank and do shoulder taps (touch each hand to the opposite shoulder) for 20 seconds.
Repeat for five to seven minutes.
Circuit Workout #3
Warm up by marching in place, driving knees and arms high, for 60 seconds.
Do burpees for one minute, then rest for 60 seconds.
Do sumo squats (feet slightly wider than hip width, toes pointed out) while holding dumbbells for one minute, then rest for 60 seconds.
Do shoulder presses with weights for one minute, then rest for 60 seconds.
Exercise Snacks if You Have 10 Minutes: 30-Second Sprints
Interval training—which involves alternating between periods of intense movement and periods of rest or low-intensity movement—is a fantastic fitness-booster and ideal for exercisers pressed for time. Researchers at the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin found that four seconds of a “super sprint” (in a lab environment with special bikes, so don’t try it at home!) can improve respiratory fitness and lean body mass, a helpful factor for metabolic health.
Try one of these 30-second sprint ideas next time you want to crush a good, sweaty workout, but only have about 10 minutes to spare.
Alternate short bursts of intense activity with longer bursts of moderate activity. Walk for one to two minutes, then jog for 30 seconds, and repeat.
Do 30-second sprints on a bike, followed by leisurely one-to-two-minute cruises.
Jump rope (or do jumping jacks) for 30 seconds, then rest (or walk in place) for one to two minutes.
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