If you’re looking for a way to fit exercise into your day but struggle to find any length of time that feels substantial enough for a worthwhile workout, you may think you’re out of luck. But ‘mini’ workouts, or short bouts of exercise throughout the day, can help bridge that gap, and guess what? Studies show they’re just as effective as one long workout.
The Benefits of Mini Workouts
According to the Department of Health & Human Services and its Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise — or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise — weekly.
Moderate aerobic exercise can include brisk walking, biking, swimming and mowing the lawn, whereas vigorous aerobic exercise can include activities such as running, heavy yard work and aerobic dancing, like Zumba.
You may look at those time requirements and immediately start scrambling for where exactly you’re going to fit that into your schedule, especially if you can only find two or three days a week to exercise. Looking at your schedule, you very well might not have a long enough continuous period of time to achieve that recommendation.
But chances are you can find pockets of time throughout your day to get some physical activity in to hit your goal — and a smaller length of workout doesn’t necessarily mean less impact.
According to Kayla Reed, a certified personal trainer and fitness center manager at Texas Health Fitness Center Prosper, the benefit of multiple, shorter length workouts is that they provide a more convenient way to prioritize your health while juggling family, work, and other obligations.
“Typically, it is more convenient and appealing for people to complete 10-minute workouts when they are occupied during the day,” she explains. “This allows a better chance for you to not be interrupted and it may be easier to complete the workout you’re participating in.”
Performing bite-size workouts throughout the day can make it easier to adhere to an exercise program, but let’s explore additional ways breaking out your workouts into smaller chunks can be beneficial.
Improve overall health
Reed says she knows for many individuals with packed schedules, it can be challenging to find a duration of time to partake in 30 minutes of daily activity. However, splitting up your 30 minutes of exercise into small durations of time throughout the day is just as beneficial to your overall health as it is completing it in one sitting.
Let’s say you break up those 30 minutes of activity into three 10-minute sessions throughout your day. You may think 10 minutes isn’t long enough to make an impact, but multiple studies have shown the opposite to be true.
One review of 19 studies involving a little over 1,000 participants found there is no difference between continuous and accumulated patterns of exercise in terms of effects on fitness, blood pressure, lipids, insulin and glucose.
“Collectively our findings suggest that adults are likely to accrue similar health benefits from exercising in a single bout or accumulating activity from shorter bouts throughout the day,” the authors conclude.
Additionally, a small study comparing the effects of short aerobic exercise versus continuous exercise found that for individuals who are considered prehypertensive, doing three 10-minute walks during the day (morning, midday, late afternoon) lowered blood pressure more than doing one 30-minute walk.
May improve exercise adherence and meet goals
As Reed mentioned above, mini workouts can help busy people reach their fitness goals without compromising on impact. But mini-workouts aren’t just beneficial for people on the go; they can also be beneficial for those just starting out on their fitness journeys.
“Starting off with short durations of exercise is more attainable for many as this allows you to be more motivated, reduces the time for boredom, and there is less chance of distraction hindering and decreasing your focus,” Reed explains.
Reed knows committing to an exercise program over time requires patience, persistence, and a whole lot of motivation, but many people stop working out before they even get a chance to reap the benefits due to some of the factors she spelled out above. But a study found that multiple short bouts of activity — around 10 minutes each — are at least as effective at facilitating exercise adherence and weight loss as a single long bout.
“Many will find that you are able to push yourself to perform harder due to the short amount of time you must complete a workout,” she adds.
Reduce the stress of working out
Shorter workouts spread out throughout your day can help reduce any fear or trepidation you may have towards stepping foot in a gym or working out. In fact, over time, shortened workouts dispersed throughout your schedule may just become a part of your day rather than an anxiety-inducing event.
Reed adds to help reduce stress and make the most of your already shortened time to work out, go into the session with a plan.
“Writing out your workout before you enter a busy facility can help you stay on track by not being overwhelmed with what to do,” she explains. “Know the different spaces you can utilize in your gym to work out when there are busy peak times. It is okay to start small and complete half your workout in the facility, and the other half walking outside. Consistency is key as the more you become comfortable in your ability to work out, use the machines, and get to know the community at your gym, the more comfortable you will feel working out at the facility, whether it’s for 10 minutes or 30 minutes.”
As for planning those micro workouts, Reed says you don’t have to overthink it. Look around at the resources around you and become creative. That can include heading outside for a brisk walk, incorporating the stairs into your workout, utilizing the wall for wall-sits, using your desk for incline push-ups, etc.
“There are so many things around us that can help play a part in staying in shape,” she adds.
For starters, Reed suggests starting with an activation/warm-up, leading into core work, adding in some cardio, going into some strength exercises, and finishing with whole-body conditioning exercises. And don’t forget to allow your body to gradually cool down after a short-intense workout!
Micro workouts are easy to complete during a lunch break at work, waiting on the kids to get out of school, or in between activities at home. Although you can get a micro workout in at the gym, most of the time they do not require specific equipment to complete. Your bodyweight allows you to engage in a total body exercise that helps develop strength and improves cardiovascular health. For some insight into bodyweight exercises, jump over to our recent article on the subject.
“When you perform small workouts, it is a great idea to incorporate movements that include all the major muscle groups. This allows you to work your body completely decreasing the chance of creating muscle imbalances,” Reed says. “At the end of the day, any form of exercise can benefit your mood and overall health no matter the intensity or program you are following!”