The Benefits of Exercising Less Than 1 Hour Per Week
If you're not regularly exercising, is "a lack of time" one of the main reasons? Chances are that it is. A lack of time is one of the most common factors in why people either avoid or quit an exercise program [1,2].
A friend recently expressed that she doesn't have several hours to commit to exercise. The underlying assumption she has (and many others have) is that working out requires a time threshold that they can't meet. In other words, exercise a few hours a week or don't exercise at all.
That assumption is wrong. If you have one hour per week for exercise, you have sufficient time. In fact, an hour or less per week of exercise can help you in MANY ways. In fact, as little as TWO minutes of exercise per week can help.
The Benefits of Minutes of Exercise
Below are a number of benefits that are obtainable with LESS than an hour per week.
Pain relief. Lower back pain and trapezius/neck pain are the two most common muscle/skeletal pain sites. For many, minutes of exercise a week can reduce these pains. One set per week -- just TWO MINUTES -- of a back extension exercise reduces lower back pain and injury risk in those with chronic pain [3,4]. For upper back/neck muscle pain, one set per day of strength training in that muscle area leads to pain relief .
Metabolism. A single strength training workout can increase metabolism for a few days. One study showed that a full-body workout, lasting just 16 MINUTES, increased metabolism by about 70-100 calories per day for three days . This is not enough of a metabolism boost to drive fat loss, but it can help contribute to losing fat or maintaining a fat loss.
Health and Fitness. If getting more fit or healthier is your goal, an hour is plenty of time. An hour of walking per week can lead to a decrease in blood pressure and an increase in aerobic fitness . Two 20-30-minute circuit strength training sessions per per week can improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels, strength, and muscle size [8,9]. A few high-intensity interval workouts per week, as short as four minutes each, can improve blood glucose and reduce waist size . A SINGLE 20-minute cycling session reduces anxiety and improves mood .
Exercising less than an hour per week -- using any one of a variety of exercise types -- can improve physical and mental health, fitness, and reduce pain levels.
Here are my recommendations for starting and SUSTAINING exercise while lacking time:
Realistic Commitment. Assess your schedule. What can you REALISTICALLY commit to? 10 minutes per day? 15 minutes per day? 30 minutes, twice per week?
Choose a Type (or Two). What activities would you most enjoy doing? What will you stick with? If you are looking for the most simple and least intimidating, consider walking or cycling. If you are looking to get the most value for your time, consider circuit training (such as this or this), strength training, or high-intensity interval training.
Schedule It. Treat your workout like a meeting or doctor's appointment. If you put it on the schedule, you'll have designated time set aside and are more likely to complete the workouts.
Larson, H.K., McFadden, K., McHugh, T.F., Berry, T.R., & Rodgers, W.M. (2018). When you don’t get what you want--and it’s really hard: exploring motivational contributions to exercise dropout. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 37, 59-66.
Trost, S.G., Owen, N., Bauman, A.E., Sallis, J.F., & Brown, W. (2002). Correlates of adults’ participation in physical activity: review and update. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 34(12), 1996-2001.
Mooney, V., Kron, M., Rummerfield, P., & Holmes, B. (1995). The effect of workplace based strengthening on low back injury rates: a case study in the strip mining industry. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 5, 157-167.
Carpenter, D.M. & Nelson, B.W. (1999). Low back strengthening for the prevention and treatment of low back pain. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 31(1), 18-24.
Andersen, L.L., Saervoll, C.A., Mortensen, O.S., Poulsen, O.M., Hannerz, H., & Zebis, M.K. (2011). Pain, 152(2), 440-446.
Heden, T., Lox, C., Rose, P., Reid, S., & Kirk, E.P. (2010). One-set resistance training elevates energy expenditure for 72 h similar to three sets. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 111(3), 477-484.
Murphy, M.H., Nevill, A.M., Murtagh, E.M., & Holder, R.L. (2007). The effect of walking on fitness, fatness, and resting blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomised, controlled trials. Preventative Medicine, 44, 377-385.
Preuss, S.R. (2020). Work-It Circuit: Improving Health, Fitness, and Self-Efficacy through a Worksite Exercise Program (Doctoral dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro).
Waller, M., Miller, J., & Hannon, J. (2011). Resistance circuit training: its application for the adult population. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 33(1), 16-22.
Batacan, R. B., Duncan, M. J., Dalbo, V. J., Tucker, P. S., & Fenning, A. S. (2017). Effects of high-intensity interval training on cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention studies. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 51(6), 494-503.
Knapen, J., Sommerijns, E., Vancampfort, D., Sienaert, P., Pieters, G., Haake, P., ... & Peuskens, J. (2009). State anxiety and subjective well-being responses to acute bouts of aerobic exercise in patients with depressive and anxiety disorders. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 43(10), 756-759.