Ten minutes—and a little creativity—are all you need to start meeting your fitness goals.
Health experts say we need to get 150 minutes of moderately intense exercise a week (which works out to about 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week). But how we get those two-and-a-half hours of activity is entirely up to us.
Women who love sweating through an hour-long aerobics class at the gym can knock out their weekly goal in just a few days. But those who aren’t fond of the gym, or who can’t exercise for a full hour (or even a half-hour), don’t have to resign themselves to inactivity. Research shows that shorter periods of exercise can add up to better health.
“Your 30 minutes doesn’t have to be all at once,” says Dr. I-Min Lee, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “You can break it up into 15-minute sessions or 10-minute sessions.” A study published this January in the American Journal of Health Promotion found that people who get their 150 weekly minutes of exercise in 10-minute intervals have the same improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, and other health outcomes as people who exercise for 30 minutes at a time.
Exercise also doesn’t need to fit the traditional definitions (jogging, aerobics, bicycling) to count. Things you do every day—such as cleaning your house or walking the dog—can improve your aerobic fitness, strength, and balance if you do them at a moderately intense pace.
To make sure you’re exercising vigorously enough, Dr. Lee suggests doing the “sing test” during the activity. “You should still be able to carry on a conversation, but you shouldn’t have enough breath to sing. If you have enough breath to sing, you’re not exercising hard enough,” she says.
Creative ways to get active
Here are seven ways to sneak more exercise into your day, and some tips to help you get the most out of each activity.
The number of calories burned depends on your weight and the intensity of the activity. The figures here are based on a weight range of 125 to 155 pounds.
1. Plant a garden
Calories burned in 10 minutes: 40–55
Digging, hoeing, weeding, and carrying tools from your house to the garden are hard work, and they do burn calories. Bending and lifting also work your muscles—just watch your back and knees, particularly if you have arthritis. And if you choose to plant a gardenful of colorful vegetables (beans, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes) you gain the added benefit of improving your diet.
2. Walk the dog
Calories burned in 10 minutes: 40–50
Dogs not only provide unconditional love—they also make good exercise partners. Studies find that dog owners are more likely to meet the government’s physical activity recommendations than those who don’t have a dog. To get the most from your daily doggie walks, keep up a brisk pace—at least a 20-minute mile. And get your pet’s bathroom break out of the way before you start the exercise clock.
3. Clean house
Calories burned in 10 minutes: 45–55
Cleaning isn’t always fun, but it’s good to know that while you’re removing dust and dirt from your home, you’re also getting fit. To burn more calories, set aside the vacuum cleaner and electric mop and use your muscle power. Scrub the windows, sweep the floors, and reach up to dust in high corners. Non-aerobic cleaning activities can also contribute to your exercise program. For example, while you’re washing the dishes, stand on one leg—then the other—to
improve your balance.
4. Make love
Calories burned in 10 minutes: 30
Sex is not only good for kindling your relationship; it is also good exercise. Different positions (as long as they’re comfortable), like sitting astride your partner, work the muscles of your thighs and buttocks. Sex can also get your heart pounding, adding to your aerobic exercise for the day. If you have a history of heart disease or heart surgery, ask your doctor if you’re healthy enough for sex.
5. Play with the grandkids
Calories burned in 10 minutes: 40–60
Don’t just sit on a bench and watch your grandchildren play in the park. Get up and join them. Play a game of hide-and-seek, push them on the swing, or toss a ball back and forth. You’ll help the little ones stay in shape while meeting your own fitness goals.
6. Take a dance class
Calories burned in 10 minutes: 55–68
The typical ballroom dance class lasts much longer than 10 minutes, but you’ll have so much fun learning the foxtrot, cha-cha, and quickstep that the time will fly by. Because dancing is a weight-bearing exercise, it contributes to your bone strength while burning fat. To get extra exercise on days when you don’t have dance class, turn on some music and practice your moves at home.
7. Walk the mall
Calories burned in 10 minutes: 40–50
Before you start shopping, take a few laps around the mall. Walking is exercise—no matter where you do it. To start burning calories even before you enter the mall, park your car in the farthest spot in the lot.
Mix and match these activities, adding a few more of your own to keep your routine varied and interesting. Play tennis or golf on your video game console, take the stairs instead of the escalator, and take a short walk after your lunch break before returning to your desk. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’re active for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
When getting started with any new activity, be realistic. Don’t try to accomplish more than you know you can achieve. “If you set yourself a really hard goal, then you’re dooming yourself to failure,” Dr. Lee says. Start slowly, and gradually add time and intensity when you feel ready.
See your doctor for recommendations on getting started. Find out what types of exercises, and intensity, are most appropriate for your fitness level. Before each activity, it’s a good idea to warm up for about five minutes with a slow walk. After the activity, cool down for five minutes.
Don’t punish yourself if you can only exercise for a few minutes at a time, or if you have to skip a day because of sore joints. Any exercise is better than none. Also don’t beat yourself up if your new, more active lifestyle doesn’t immediately lead to weight loss. “Even if your weight isn’t going down, you are still healthier because you’re physically active,” Dr. Lee says.