Bursts of activity every day may be just as beneficial as a punishing workout. Here’s why.
Imagine a future where your GP writes you a prescription for exercise instead of medication. It’s now a very real prospect. Many of us are too preoccupied with the competing demands in our lives to heed the recommendation that we need at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (anything that leaves you a little puffed) on most days of the week.
Only a third of us actually get there and our sedentary lifestyle is now the fourth biggest cause of global mortality, as it increases our risk of obesity and other chronic diseases.
“That means inactivity kills almost as many as smoking”’ says David Stalker, a fitness industry spokesperson.
The good news? By getting a wriggle on, you’ll be less likely to be overweight or obese, but you’ll also protect yourself from a raft of other health issues.
“We know [being active] helps prevent or manage chronic health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, hypertension, high cholesterol, depression and anxiety,” says Stalker.
“It’s absolutely fine to start small. If you’re new to exercise or out of the habit, it can seem scary to aim for 30 minutes a day straightaway. But think in 10-minute chunks and it’s much more achievable. Before you know it, being more active will be a way of life,” he says.
For example, it can be as easy as getting up 10 minutes earlier, multitasking at lunchtime, then finding another 10 in the evening.
Research supports the idea of breaking exercise into short bursts over a day. It suggests 10 minute chunks may be just as beneficial as one longer session, and the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend shorter sessions over the day if you don’t have time to do 30 minutes at once.
Queensland researcher Dr Genevieve Healy found people who added bursts of short activity into their day had slimmer waists, a lower Body Mass Index (BMI) along with healthier blood fat and sugar levels, than those who sat for hours. Even for people doing daily workouts, activity bursts have additional health benefits.
“Exercise bursts throughout the day make a big health difference to everyone. It all adds up to goodness,” says Dr Healy.
Need more encouragement? Adding just 10 minutes of activity to your day has even been associated with adding 1.8 years to your life expectancy.
So what are you waiting for? Take 10 minutes and get started today!
“Make the stairs your new best friends,” says personal trainer Anna Reich. But don’t just plod up them, treat them as serious workout equipment. “Stepping calls on your glutes, quads, calves, hamstrings and even your arms if you pump them vigorously – you’ll burn kilojoules and tone up,” she says.
“Whenever you need to use the stairs, go up and down them once or twice more, for exercise’s sake. Keep your body upright, pump your arms and drive with your heels. Take two steps at a time for a bigger workout and faster results, or simply march on and off the bottom step for 10 minutes.” Tip: skip the lift at work and use a bathroom on a different floor.
People who do bursts of short activity throughout their day have slimmer waists, lower BMIs and healthier blood fat and sugar levels
Get pedal pushing
It’s time to take that unused bicycle out for a spin, or ask a friend or relative to lend a set of wheels. You’ll save money, the environment and even time by taking to two wheels instead of sitting in traffic. Even leisurely cycling can burn around 2000 kilojoules an hour, so that 10-minute round trip to the post office could use up around 350 kilojoules. Why not commit to three short journeys per week by bike? If the roads seem too hazardous try watching your favourite TV show while pedalling on an exercise bike.
Dig for victory
Whatever the season, there’s always something to be done in the garden, so why not reap the physical rewards? Whether it’s moving, weeding, digging over new beds ready for spring, or raking leaves, it all counts as activity, says fitness consultant Dean Hodgkin.
“So put your back into it! If you get to work on a vegetable garden you’ll be able to enjoy the healthy fruits of your labour, too.”
Instead of sitting to have a chat on the phone, stand up or walk around at the same time. And next time you’re put on hold by the bank, “put the phone on speaker and do some squats or leg lifts to tone your bottom,” says Hodgkin.Rediscover play-time H2
Don’t rely on school to keep your kids active. Why not join them for some quality play time, too?
“If you have 10 minutes, grab a ball or frisbee and head outside (but no loitering in goal!). Or, play old-fashioned games such as hide-and-seek, tag, hopscotch or follow the leader,” suggests Hodgkin.
Indoors, swap sedentary video games for games like Wii Fit or Nike+ Kinect, and swap board games for an active game like Twister.
“Fitness is easier to stick to when it’s fun,” he says.
Exercise your way through the ads
Instead of channel surfing during TV ad breaks, put the time to healthy use. Reich suggests tricep dips.
“Shuffle your bottom to the edge of the sofa with hands on either side, then move your feet forwards. Engage your core, lift your bottom away from the seat and use your arms to lower your body towards the floor and back up again (elbows close and pointing directly behind you). Feel the backs of your arms working and tightening,” she says.
In the following ad break, get your legs toned by lying on your back on the floor and then ‘bicycling’ your legs to tone your bottom and thighs.
Jump to it
Skipping is a fantastic total body workout, burning around 500 kilojoules in 10 minutes.
“Add variety by jumping on one leg for a while, or alternate legs,” says personal trainer Stuart Amory.
“Think back to school days and try some rope tricks, too, like skipping backwards or crossing your arms on alternate jumps.”
Walk this way
Try to get up from your desk every 30 minutes and start moving, suggests Dr Healy. Skip email, use eye mail and walk to chat to the person instead. Grab a glass of water from the kitchen, or go for a walk at lunchtime. Ramp it up further by getting off the bus a stop earlier or walking the kids to school. No time, right? It may feel tricky to fit walking into your daily routine when it’s all go-go-go, but that’s all the more reason to do it – just up the speed!
“Pick up the pace and accentuate your natural walking style by pulling your belly button in and keeping upright,” says Reich.
“Emphasise the heel-to-toe action, clench your bottom and pump your elbows to work your arms. Forget about how you look, if this is your only chance to exercise, get as much out of it as you can.”
A brisk 10-minute walk can burn 170 kilojoules, and you’ll get some fresh air, too.
Do the tea round
“Making cups of tea at work or home won’t just make you more popular, but can tone your calves, too,” says Reich. “While the kettle boils, hold onto the counter and rise up on to tiptoes, keeping your body tall (clench your bottom for added oomph). Hold for five seconds, then lower. Repeat until the tea brews.”Get your groove on H2
Music is motivating, dancing is good for you – so what better way to mix the two?
“The right music can affect energy levels, breathing and heart rate, helping you to move faster and harder,” explains Reich. That’s why athletes listen to music to get in the zone and gyms play fast music to keep people going.
Indeed, UK researchers found listening to music distracts the brain from the effort of exercise, enough to boost performance by 15 per cent. So turn the radio up and get dancing.
“Remember, you get out what you put in, so really go for it,” says Reich. Make a few 10-minute playlists of your favourite songs. You can also use them to make your least favourite housework more fun.
“For example, it can help turn vacuuming into a heart pumping vigorous workout.”
Do a supermarket sweep
Turn your shopping into a power-sport. “See how quickly you can get round the supermarket,” suggests Hodgkin. “Walk along every aisle and use a basket instead of a trolley where possible.” Carrying a basket helps to tone your arms, then add extra effort by carrying the grocery bags to the car.Team up with a dog H2
“Take your dog for more frequent walks (or borrow a friend’s) and gradually increase the distance you cover in a set time,” says Hodgkin. “You can turn your dog walk into a mini interval-training session, too. Pick a nearby feature, such as a tree or lamp post, and speed up to a fast walk or jog until you get there. Recover for 20–30 seconds, then repeat.”
Turn on the TV…
… but step away from the sofa. Grab a fitness DVD – anything from dance to aerobics, or yoga to Tai Chi – there’s a workout DVD for you. Do one a day, or combine a few whenever you have more time.Push for results H2
If there’s one key exercise all trainers agree on, it’s push-ups. “Push-ups strengthen abs, glutes, back, shoulders, arms and chest, and can be modified to suit all levels of strength and ability,” says Amory.
“Beginners can start on all fours, slowly bending their elbows to lower their chest towards the floor, then push back to the start position.
“Intermediates can use the full push-up position (hands and toes on floor) but lower knees to the floor. Experienced people can do the full push-up, keeping a straight line from head to toe throughout. Do as many as you can in one minute, then rest for one minute. Repeat four more times.”
30% – the reduction in risk of womb cancer in women who exercise regularly27% – the reduction in stroke risk if you are physically active50% – the reduction in risk of type 2 diabetes if you exercise for 150 minutes a week