Five-Minute Fitness: A Guide to Bite-Sized Exercise

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You’ve heard of grazing – eating bite-sized meals throughout the day rather than putting away three full meals? Well, the same less-is-more principle applies to workouts.

According to recommendations posted in 2018 by the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, there are health benefits to bouts of physical activity lasting less than 10 minutes (even less than five), adding that “There is no minimum duration needed for physical activity to be beneficial to your health.”

In other words, five minutes of purposeful running in place counts just as much as running a 5k.  A few “all-in” mini sessions during the day rather than one sweaty weights/ cardio/ flexibility session that leaves you exhausted and not anxious to hit repeat is just what the exercise experts are beginning to order these days. This turnabout is especially meaningful if you have a health condition, hate the idea of gyms, are on a crazy work schedule, or have trouble staying motivated after that second set of bicep curls. Tiny exercise breaks are more organic than a trip to the gym, and well, let’s be honest, likely to be less dreaded by most of us.

Mini workouts with maxi results are good for your muscles, your bones, your brain, and your weight. A 2001 study revealed that women who exercised regularly, regardless of how long or short the time spent, lost weight and increased their endurance.  Exercise accumulated in several short bouts had similar effects as one continuous bout with regard to aerobic fitness and weight loss concluded researchers in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

A regular workout regimen (even of the scaled-down variety) also cuts your risk of heart disease and stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and certain forms of cancer, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It even improves sleep and lessens the pain from arthritis and other joint conditions. And moving — even in small increments —  reduces anxiety and depression.

So what counts as working out?  Just about anything once you’re on your feet. Indoor and outdoor walking (pick your pace), running in place, pushups (even against the wall) squats, lunges (hold onto a chair if needed), planks (with knees up or down), lifting dumbbells, or using resistance bands to strengthen back, shoulders, arms, legs, and core. And don’t discount serious hands-on housework that involves climbing stairs and ladders, getting down on the hands and knees, and pushing cleaning machines around.  Points for that as well.   It all adds up.

Small, No Sweat Tips;

*Meet yourself where you are. You aren’t training for the Olympics. You’re trying to become a better, fitter you without the stress. Decide what kind of small burst exercise fits into your busy (or lazy) schedule that you can see yourself doing at various times in the day/week. It helps to keep a journal as a reminder of these faves and as a record of your progress.

* Invest in a few low-cost helpers such as light (3-5 lbs.) handheld weights, a few resistance bands, and an exercise mat. That’s all you need to get moving. Pick a couple of times during the day at home and/or the office when you can hit pause and do a micro-move for a minute or two. Set your phone’s timer.


1). AM? If you’re even half awake, you can strengthen your whole core with an in-bed modified roll-up. Take a breath, exhale, tuck your hands under your bent knees, tuck your chin, round the back, and working from the lower abs roll up to seated.  Repeat in reverse. See how many you can do in 3 minutes.

2)  Lunchtime? Nothing is better for your cardiovascular health than skipping the elevator and climbing stairs or walking uphill, according to researchers at McMaster University. No hills or stairs?  Try stepping up and down on a small study chair, box or bench. If you aren’t winded after a minute, go for 2 or 3 minutes.  It will burn calories and get your heart rate up in no time.

3) 3 PM slump?  Reach for a dumbbell, not a candy bar. Schedule a little pick-me-up for that time.  Set an alarm on your phone. And keep a menu of three exercises to pick from that you can commit to for at least 5 minutes. Maybe it’s push-ups (knees up or down or hands against the wall), squats or lunges, and maybe for extra credit, balancing on one leg in Tree pose to activate and tighten your core.

4) Watching a sitcom or the evening news? Don’t sit!  Stand and do a few jumping jacks or a wall-supported karate kick.  Or fast walking in place with knee lifts. Or use a resistance band to strengthen your chest and shoulders while you’re waiting for the meatloaf to bake.

5) Three days a Week: In the time it takes to make a pot of coffee, try a 5-minute interval workout. Pick one exercise that you would like to master, one that would be a gift to your biceps, belly, chest, or triceps. Set the timer and do that one forearm plank, dumbbell curl, or slow squat (or your choice) for 30 seconds, Rest. Repeat until you hear the bell.  Maybe that’s your Monday workout. For Wednesday, pick another body part and apply the same regimen. Ditto Friday. That’s three days when you got your tiny workout in. All gain, no pain. (Once it gets too easy, that 30 seconds becomes 45 seconds, and even farther up the road, 60 seconds with a sorter rest window).

6) After-dinner walk:  According to a recent meta-analysis study reported in the journal Sports Medicine,  light walking after a meal, in increments of as little as two to five minutes, has a significant impact in moderating blood sugar levels. Walking within 60 to 90 minutes after eating delivers the biggest benefit.  For motivation, bring a partner, a dog, or a favorite podcast. That few minutes of moving will improve your digestion and help you sleep better later.

7) Bedtime?  Cleaning /flossing your teeth? Work on your balance and strengthen your core at the same time. Stand on one leg for 10 seconds. Switch legs. Do two more rounds. Set the toothbrush aside and hold a towel overhead in both hands while still balancing. Repeat each morning or evening.

8) Got a minute? A short burst of exercise always beats passivity. Keep a list of simple exercises on the fridge or on your phone that you can consult whenever you feel blue, unmotivated, or unable to focus,   Maybe it’s a few sets of pushups at the wall, that Samba combination you love,  planks with knees up or down,  bicep curls with weights or a couple of water bottles (full not empty). Or running in place at any pace next to your desk followed by a few yoga stretches, Trainers say this improves mental clarity and mood and is a guaranteed brain perk.

-Frances Goulart

Photo: Unsplash





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2 comments on “Five-Minute Fitness: A Guide to Bite-Sized Exercise

  1. Reading this with pleasure! I find myself struggling to fit everything in, knowing my health and exercise is paramount. I take an hour walk in the morning for my mental (and physical) health, but these additional bonuses are easily attainable! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Avatar photo

    Thanks for your comment! Believe me, you’re not the only one who struggles to fit in some exercise (that would be me) — so we thought it was a great topic!

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