Five Minutes to Fine-Tune Your Health

Microbursts of activity a few times a day have terrific benefits

It can be incredibly tough to find time to exercise. We know we should — but too often, we don’t.

“I have good intentions every morning to either hit the gym or at least take a walk,” said one Boston-area 54-year-old wife and mother who also works full-time.

“I go through what many busy women go through — expectation (that I will exercise), procrastination, and remorse (I didn’t go again today),” said one working mom.

“The problem is, it is not enough of a priority. Work or the kids or even just lingering over coffee to grab a moment alone becomes more important — and then at night I’m too exhausted. I go through what many busy women go through — expectation (that I will exercise), procrastination (I’ll hit the gym tonight instead of this morning) and remorse (I didn’t go again today). My husband exercises every day, no matter what. It’s not like I don’t have good role models around,” she added.

If carving out a window of time is the biggest challenge, how does five minutes every hour sound? New research shows that breaking up activity into these “microbursts” could do more to improve mood, decrease levels of fatigue, and reduce food cravings than one prolonged 30-minute bout of activity.

The study was small, but the results, if they hold true, could be powerful for the office worker who realizes she needs to move more — but doesn’t.

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“We found that while a single bout of physical activity was effective at improving energy shortly after, this energy was not sustained throughout the day,” said Raphaela O’Day, Ph.D., a behavioral scientist at Johnson & Johnson Health and Wellness Solutions. “However, for people who did short bursts of exercise throughout the day, we saw a significant and sustained impact on people’s energy after the second microburst.”

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Thirty healthy, sedentary adults, ages 25 to 50, who did not meet the recommended levels of 30 minutes of activity a day, took part in the trial. They were tasked with a day of no physical activity, another day of hourly five-minute microbursts, and a third day with a 30-minute bout of physical activity performed once a day. Cognitive performance tests were given along with energy, fatigue, mood and appetite questionnaires.

The main takeaway, O’Day told LifeZette, was that doing something, even if it is only five minutes during the day, has a more profound impact than doing nothing at all.

Related: Exercise So Your Brain Won’t Shrink

“In today’s fast-paced world, we realize it is hard to carve out time to be active in a meaningful way,” said O’Day. “These findings align with other research that shows physically active breaks help improve energy and reduce stress. Plus, regular breaks from sitting too long can improve overall health and well-being.”

A few easy ways to make five minutes work for you:

  • Run up and down a flight of stairs.
  • Go for a brisk walk — take the long way to your next meeting.
  • Do jumping jacks in your office or even the restroom.
  • Jump rope or get in some situps and pushups.
  • If you have a private room available, a flow sequence like a yoga sun salutation is a great way to boost physical energy levels.
  • Run around the block.
  • Do housework or shovel snow.

Five-minute micro workouts are encouraging news for the Boston mom and others who struggle to find the time for a workout. And it appears her husband is an even better role model than she realized.

“He says I put too much emphasis on [hitting the gym],” she said. “‘Start by walking 10 minutes a day and then be happy about that,’ he has always said. ‘Allow yourself to gradually become hooked on exercise.'” Turns out he may be right.

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