The Benefits of Exercise, Even in Small Doses
Finding the time to exercise regularly is a BIG challenge for many people, either due to their busy school and work schedules, family duties, a lack of motivation, a dislike for the gym or a number of other factors. There’s good news, however, as experts are now saying short bouts of exercise are just as good (and maybe even better) than intense, extended workouts.
Anna Small, a certified family nurse practitioner on the medical staff at Texas Health Family Care, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, says there is an easy way to improve several areas of our lives: energy levels, sleep, cardiovascular health, weight loss and overall health and wellness.
“The ‘catch’ is that this requires daily exercise and unfortunately, not everyone has access or time to join a gym in our fast-paced society…but there is good news,” she explains. “Everyone can positively impact their health through routine daily activities. Examples include squatting while you brush your teeth, parking farther away from your destination, walking to destinations rather than driving, taking stairs rather than the elevator, standing rather than sitting at work, pushing the grocery cart when shopping, dancing while you cook dinner or walking while using your cell phone (in a safe environment).
“These are just a few ways you can contribute to improving your overall health. All bursts of physical activity and movement release energy and endorphins. These activity bursts multiple times a day improve circulation and heart health, build stronger muscles and bones, boost mood and sharpen thinking.”
While the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) recommends 150-300 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise or 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise for adults, Small says people shouldn’t give up hope if the standard seems like too much.
“These recommendations can feel like an insurmountable goal,” she says. “Some may achieve this temporarily and burn out because they are unable to sustain it, while others will not even attempt to begin an exercise program because it seems unattainable.
“You can have smaller spurts of daily activity that will provide better endurance and the ability to gradually increase movement instead of a grueling, prolonged workout. By breaking up the physical activity/movement into smaller chunks of time it is more sustainable and enjoyable because of a sense of achievement and accomplishment.”
The ODPHP launched a website, Move Your Way, to provide tips for increasing movement for both adults and children, along with tips for parents. Regular physical activity has the benefit of not only improving physical health but mental health as well, including boosting mood, sharpening focus, reducing stress and improving sleep.
Small says that even smaller bouts of physical activity add up, so people shouldn’t be worried that they don’t have the time or stamina to put in an hour-long workout to achieve their movement goals.
“The long-term benefits of getting moving at multiple intervals provides similar health effects to a single, continuous 30-minute bout of moderate exercise,” she says. “In a FIT study, interval activity (exercising multiple times at 5 to 10-minute increments) versus continuous activity uses more calories, lowers triglycerides more, raises HDL more, conditions better and leads to better adherence. Some long-term health benefits include decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes and certain cancers, lower levels of anxiety/depression, improved sleep, weight loss, improved bone health and lower risk of falls in older adults.
“The bottom line is JUST MOVE! This may be only two to three minutes per day in the beginning. That’s okay … just keep moving. It’s okay to go slow, but go, go, go! Increase your spurts of activity gradually and you can reap a multitude of physical and mental benefits.”
The American Heart Association also provides tips and ideas to increase daily movement, including the following activities:
- Water aerobics
- Riding a bicycle
- Jumping rope
Exercise may not be your idea of a good time, but Small says if it becomes part of your daily life by doing things you already enjoy, you may just find it’s not so bad after all.
“Don’t forget moving for wellness can be fun,” she says. “Start your morning with a happy dance…you know, dance like nobody’s watching and release those endorphins! Play soccer or basketball with the kids, go for a hike on a beautiful day, kayak in peaceful waters and recruit a partner to join in the fun and improved health.
“The days of being in a gym for hours at a time or dreading a long, intense workout are not necessary. You can improve your health with just incremental bursts of movement that won’t cause burnout because YOU choose your activities and how to implement them daily. I challenge you to get motivated, get inspired, get a partner and GET MOVING TODAY!”