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No time to work out? While dedicating your time to intentionally exercising has a plethora of benefits for your body, mind, and soul, opting to incorporate physical activity wherever and however you can—even for a one-minute exercise—offers longevity and health benefits all on its own.
A robust research dataset, published in 2017, backs up the claim that getting your heart pumping for even a minute makes a difference. To conduct the research, more than 100,000 people wore a fitness tracker that monitored their physical activity for two and a half years. Researchers then followed up with the participants seven to nine years later, noting how many people had passed away or navigated health issues in the interim such as cancer, cardiac events, and more. This collective data is known as the UK Biobank dataset. Now, researchers are able to analyze the data in different ways to gain various insights into how physical activity impacts long-term health. One such way is this very finding, which supports short bursts of cardiac activity connect to longevity.
Researchers at the University of Sydney filtered the data to examine participants who do not intentionally exercise (meaning they’re not recording workouts), which amounted to about 25,000 people. Among these non-exercisers, the fitness trackers still found that people do “lifestyle activity” in short bursts throughout the day. Think: Going up and down the stairs, gardening, walking to the store, playing with kids and grandkids, and so on. These “bursts” can be as short as one minute and as long as 10 minutes, and the effort is “moderate to vigorous” (meaning it’s difficult to hold a conversation doing the activity).
The University of Sydney researchers first published in December 2022 in Nature Medicine that doing three to four bouts of one-minute exercise per day reduced the risk of premature death by up to 40 percent, and up to 49 percent of deaths tied to cardiovascular disease in particular. In October of this year, the researchers followed up the study with new research published in The Lancet, which examined how different durations of these short bursts impacted mortality. They found that doing even one minute of lifestyle exercise (and up to 10 minutes) was associated with lowered risk of heart attack and stroke by 29 to 44 percent (the longer the duration, the better).
The takeaway? Anything that gets your heart rate up into a moderate or vigorous zone, where it’s a little more challenging or straight up difficult to hold a conversation, for as little as one minute a day, can pay off for your long-term heart health and longevity.
This research confirms what we already know about the beneficial properties of short bursts of physical activity. But Teddy Savage, the national lead fitness trainer at Planet Fitness, says that these studies give even more juice to the idea that all movement—no matter how short in duration—is good movement.
“I’ve always been inclined to talk about the benefits of working out and moving your body in a dynamic way no matter how much time you have at your disposal,” Savage says. “But the study really brought it across in a profound manner because it was talking about time constraints that are even shorter than what you would think a short workout is.”
Why doing a one-minute exercise session is good for your health
While running up and down the stairs to swap out a load of laundry or accept the Grubhub delivery you’ve been eagerly awaiting may seem rather inconsequential compared to a dedicated 30-to-60-minute workout, board-certified family nurse practitioner Kris Adair, who has a background in cardiology and is the founder of Adair Family Clinic and MedSpa, agrees that weaving regular bursts of heart-pumping moments into your daily routine—even just via everyday chores—will boost your overall health.
“Short bursts of activity are very helpful to your heart health because it provides increased circulation and oxygenation to the entire body in a way that is similar to revving an engine,” she says. “This sudden boost provides nutrients and oxygen to areas of the body that may not have been efficiently receiving them, clearing out toxins, debris, and stagnant blood that can slow down body function or even contribute to dysfunction in these areas, restoring them back to normal and reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, or cancer.”
“Repeated short bursts of vigorous physical activity can result in improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness within just a few weeks.” —Michael Gavalas, MD
Michael Gavalas, MD, a cardiologist at the Stony Brook Heart Institute, adds that in addition to substantially lower all-cause cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality risk, these bursts of activity improve cardiorespiratory fitness, which can be seen pretty soon after implementing this method.
“Physical activity helps to improve cardiorespiratory fitness and higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness are associated with lower rates of all-cause mortality,” he explains. “Repeated short bursts of vigorous physical activity can result in improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness within just a few weeks.”
3 one-minute exercise activities to boost heart health
Think of the moments in your daily life where you notice you’re out of breath. Maybe it’s when you’re chasing your dog or toddler around the house, or perhaps it’s while running to make your train during your daily commute. So long as the activity makes your heart race, it constitutes a proper pick. “Essentially, any sort of unstructured activity that increases cardiovascular circulation and that you find enjoyable can be performed as a short burst activity,” Adair confirms.
If you work from home and don’t find yourself out of breath very often, a fitness tracker like an Apple Watch Series 8 (from $399) can help. The smartwatch will send hourly reminders to stand. When it does, instead of walking around for a minute to score another stand point, consider jogging up and down the stairs or doing a round of burpees.
“Be creative about finding the time to get your body moving,” advises Savage. “Find some fun things that you could do with the kids or some partner movements you could do with your significant other, or maybe if your mom and dad come in. There’s some great five-minute things that our more seasoned citizens can do as well that are going to be good for their heart health, too. So it’s really family-friendly.” Savage notes that for a one-minute exercise session to contain the most benefits, it should have elements of cardio, bodyweight strength, and moving in multiple planes of motion (to activate multiple muscle groups). Here are Savage’s favorite triple-threat moves.
1. Bodyweight squat
Activate your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core with this functional movement that mimics sitting in a chair. You’ll also move both up and down and front to back, and if you pick up the pace, your heart will definitely take notice.
2. Sit to stand with arm reaches
If you find that you haven’t moved from the couch in… a while, set your timer for one minute and do this strength, mobility, and cardio move. Come to the edge of the sofa. Squeeze your glutes and leg muscles to bring yourself up to standing, and at the same time, raise your arms above your head. Then, move into a forward fold where you touch your toes. Return to sitting and repeat.
Let the music move you front and back, side to side, and up and down. Not sure where to start? Try a two-step just to get into the rhythm of the music, and add arm moves and personality as you feel it. Don’t be surprised if your mood gets a boost along with your heart rate.