And perhaps one of the best new findings about exercise — especially if you, like many people, struggle to find the time to fit it into a busy day — is that all those benefits of physical activity can be had even if you only squeeze in a few minutes of exercise a day. While doctors used to think that we needed to engage in 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day, new research is finding that we can see benefits with shorter bursts of physical activity. “As little as 15 minutes a day of high-intensity activity that leaves you breathless, like swimming, can kick start your metabolic rate and reduce body fat and increase muscle mass,” says Dr. Berger.
Exercise helps people perform activities of daily life more easily. Physically fit people are stronger, healthier and more energetic than sedentary people. They are able to solve problems more readily, deal with stress more effectively, think faster and remember things more efficiently. Overall, activities of daily life become less of a chore for active people.
Emerging research suggests that it doesn’t take much movement to get the benefits. “We’ve been interested in the question of, How low can you go?” says Martin Gibala, an exercise physiologist at McMaster University in Ontario. He wanted to test how effective a 10-minute workout could be, compared to the typical 50-minute bout. The micro-workout he devised consists of three exhausting 20-second intervals of all-out, hard-as-you-can exercise, followed by brief recoveries. In a three-month study, he pitted the short workout against the standard one to see which was better. To his amazement, the workouts resulted in identical improvements in heart function and blood-sugar control, even though one workout was five times longer than the other. “If you’re willing and able to push hard, you can get away with surprisingly little exercise,” Gibala says. (For more on the 1-minute workout read this.)
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Use small weights to do weighted punches. Pick up a small, 1 or 2 pound weight in each hand and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bring your hands up in front of your face with your palms facing each other. Punch your right fist forward without locking your arm, then quickly pull it back as you shoot your left fist upward. Alternate the exercise this way for 60 seconds, as fast as you can.
A little healthy competition can motivate you to push yourself further in your workout regimen. There are apps like Zombies, Run! which turns your run into a video game, and MyFitnessPal which allows you to connect with others in the exercise community. Whether you’re directly competing with a friend, an online community, or against your previous self, setting goals is the key to reaching them. Running with no destination can feel like an impossible task, and it’s easy to get distracted.
Those buff lab rats might be smarter than we think. Various studies on mice and men have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells (aka neurogenesis) and improve overall brain performance Aerobic exercise is the critical variable in an enriched environment that increases hippocampal neurogenesis and water maze learning in male C57BL/6J mice. Mustroph ML, Chen S, Desai SC, Cay EB, DeYoung EK, Rhodes JS. Neuroscience Program, The Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA. Neuroscience. 2012 September 6;219:62-71. Aerobic exercise improves hippocampal function and increases BDNF in the serum of young adult males. Griffin EW, Mullally S, Foley C, Warmington SA, O’Mara SM, Kelly AM. Department of Physiology, School of Medicine, University of Dublin, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Physiology & Behavior. 2011 October 24;104(5):934-41.. Ready to apply for a Nobel Prize? Studies suggest that a tough workout increases levels of a brain-derived protein (known as BDNF) in the body, believed to help with decision making, higher thinking, and learning. Smarty (spandex) pants, indeed.