Got Ten Minutes to Spare?

James Logie

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You may have caught an interesting piece on CNN talking about how ten minutes of exercise a day can be lifesaving.

The report claims we could prevent 110,000 deaths a year if adults over 40 just added 10 minutes of “moderate to vigorous physical activity to their normal routines.”

This sounds encouraging, but what’s the deal with these types of reports? I’ve worked as a personal trainer, and nutrition and wellness specialist for nearly 20 years, and I think it’s encouraging to see you don’t need hours of exercise a day to get healthy.

Only ten minutes? Sounds pretty good. But are these reports actually doing us any good?

What Does the Report Really Say?

The JAMA Internal Medicine Journal published this report. They looked at data that the National Health and Nutrition Examination recorded. It looked at participants who were ages 6 and older between 2003 and 2006.

Next, they looked at the activity levels of up to 5,000 people aged from 40 to 85. They tracked death rates to the end of 2015.

They concluded that “more than 110,000 deaths could be prevented each year for those over forty.

Also, an increase of twenty to thirty minutes could lead to even more lives that are saved.

We should point out that the number of prevented deaths is an estimate. The report from CNN also points out that doing actual human trials to really look at this would be nearly impossible. And the “study doesn’t focus on the benefits for individuals but at the level of the population.”

The main point from the report is that exercise has enormous health benefits — even just a little. But we already knew that.

I think it catches most people off guard when they see they only need 10 minutes. And this may not be that helpful.

Seriously? Just 10 Minutes?

The key point in the report is how twenty to thirty minutes was even better — but the headlines we get only talk about 10 minutes.

This makes sense, as who doesn’t want to know they only need ten minutes of exercise a day?

Ultimately, this can be good, because it’s going to encourage people to get up and get moving. The prospect of health and fitness can be overwhelming, as some beginners may think they need hours of exercise a day.

Hearing ten minutes can bring them some benefits could motivate many people to get exercising.

One thing I like is how articles like this inform people you don’t have to be part of a gym to get fit. You can do yoga, walk or jog, do bodyweight exercises; even dance.

But should you cut it off after 10 minutes?

The Problem With These Kinds of Reports

So encouraging people to get moving is great. And ten minutes is very doable. But what about the rest of the day?

If you only spend ten minutes exercising, and the rest of the day on the couch, that may not be the best formula for overall health.

In our modern society, it can be tough, as you don’t have to be physically fit to survive. We can drive everywhere, take escalators and stairs, and can even get most things we need in a drive-through.

There are machines that do our lifting for us and it’s easy to get by without physically exerting ourselves.

Our Paleolithic ancestors would spit out their mammoth meat knowing we could pull up to a window and get thousands of calories in under a minute without breaking a sweat.

We should also point out that these reports don’t even touch on diet and nutrition. Ten minutes of dancing may be great, but not if the daily diet is a disaster.

Sometimes, these reports make it look like you can throw everything else out the window if you just get 10 minutes of exercise a day.

These ten minutes are a good place to start, but the headlines should push how the report said 20 to 30 minutes is even better.

It comes back to the issue of ignoring that health, fitness, and exercise can take place over the course of a day. You may have even seen some reports about 5 minutes of exercise being enough.

Sounds great, but again — what are you going to do for the other 16–17 hours?

What Does This Mean For You?

If you’re just getting started with health and fitness — or returning after a long layoff — this ten-minute report should encourage you.

But don’t let it stop there.

The secret to getting fitter is to start slowly, and gradually build. Starting off with too much all at once will just overwhelm and frustrate you.

Again, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen that go too hard, too soon, then quickly burn out.

It’s the slow gradual build that builds sustainable habits. Fitness isn’t something you can accomplish in two weeks or 30 days. You can definitely make some improvements, but this is a long-term game.

Ten minutes each day for a week or two is a great place to start. Then, you could bump it up to 15 minutes for a few weeks. It’s those incremental improvements that help bring results.

Down the line, you could do 30 minutes of exercise 4–5 days a week. Don’t worry about making things too detailed at first (there will be time for that later), the important thing is to just get moving.

The good news about the ten minutes report is it’s a great place to start to get those health benefits. But keep in mind what you do the rest of the day.

Exercise can, and should, be sprinkled throughout the day; because it all adds up. Since we spend most of our days sitting, it’s helpful to find some other ways to keep the body moving.

A few ways you can add some extra exercise each day include:

  • Taking the stairs whenever possible
  • Parking farther away from your work or when you go to the store
  • Going for a walk on your lunch break
  • Stretching or yoga before you go to bed
  • Walking meetings or walking while on the phone
  • Stand as much as you can (There are many factors involved, and that getting into calorie math is far from a perfect science, but an interesting meta-analysis from 2018 by The European Journal of Cardiology found that standing instead of sitting for 6 hours a day burned an extra 54 calories daily. For a 143 pound person, that could be 5.5 pounds of body fat burned off a year.)
  • Start the day with some squats or push-ups

Final Thoughts

Yes, ten minutes of exercise is definitely better than nothing. And there still may be some health benefits from that amount.

These reports and headlines are encouraging, but it helps to take them with a grain of salt — and not limit yourself.

If ten minutes is all you can get in on certain days, that’s still great. But remember, 20–30 minutes look to be even better — and is pretty doable.

The key takeaway is that exercise doesn’t need to be limited to a short, single session. It’s all around us and should be a part of our daily lives.

Ultimately, being encouraged to move is never a bad thing. What’s important is to find the best kind of movement for yourself. It should be the type of exercise that motivates you to move and that you actually want to do.

Take some time to find out what that is. If it’s joining a traditional gym, using the equipment, or taking a class, that’s great.

But exercise can be whatever you want it to be.

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Personal trainer, podcaster, Amazon best-selling author. Writing about some health, a little marketing, and a whole lot of 1980s.

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