The US Department of Health and Human Services’s “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition” recommends a minimum of two hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise OR a minimum of one hour and 15 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity OR an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week AND muscle-strengthening activities of moderate-to-vigorous intensity that involve all major muscle group.1 Dedicating that much time to working out each week may seem daunting, if not downright impossible, to many of us, especially during the busy holiday season. But fitting physical activity into your busy weekly schedule isn’t as difficult as you think! Research has shown that accumulating multiple mini-workouts (e.g., 10-minute bursts of activity) throughout the week to achieve the total weekly recommended amount of time for physical activity offers the same health benefits as working out for 30 to 60 minutes (or longer) at a time 3 to 5 days a week.2
Let’s review the difference between moderately intense and vigorously intense physical exercise.
A moderately intense exercise is any activity that noticeably increases your heart rate and breathing rate but doesn’t make you huff and puff. You definitely should feel like you are exercising and maybe sweat a little, but you should still be able to comfortably carry on a conversation.
A vigorously intense exercise is any activity that requires a high level of exertion to perform. It will substantially increase your heart rate and breathing rate and, depending on how long you do the activity, you may sweat…a lot. Talking will be very difficult. The activity should feel hard and be difficult to sustain for extended periods of time.
Physical Activities That Can Be Done in 10 Minutes
Here we’ve provided some examples of activities you can do for 5 to 10 minutes a few times each day to help you stay strong and healthy, as well as help you meet your accumulated weekly physical fitness goals.
1. Brisk Walk
A brisk walk is considered a moderately intense exercise. It is easy to squeeze in a mini-walk, regardless of where you are. Weather permitting, take a 5- to 10-minute brisk walk around your office building or parking lot, around your neighborhood block, or around your yard a few times at home. If you have access to a treadmill, use it for 5 to 10 minutes at a moderate speed.
2. Stair Climbing
Stair climbing can be moderate or vigorous in intensity, depending on how fast you do it and how many steps you climb. For a moderately intense effect, just walk up and down a set of stairs (ideally 10–12 steps) several times at your normal pace until you hit your 5 to 10-minute time goal. Your heart rate and breathing rate should be elevated and you should feel some level of exertion, but you shouldn’t feel like you are going to die. However, if you are looking for vigorous intensity, run, don’t walk, up and down the stairs several times until you hit your time goal. After a few flights, you will no doubt start to feel how vigorously intense stair climbing can be. It may be unpleasant, but it is a great strength-building exercise for your legs and an intense cardiovascular workout. Feel the burn!
The great thing about calisthenic exercises is their versatility: they can be performed at a moderately intense or vigorously intense level, they are easy to modify according to your current fitness level or physical ability, they can be done practically anywhere, and it’s easy to mix and match them for a little variety. Pick 2 or 3 activities and do a set of each for a total of 10 minutes to get a moderate-to-vigorous intensity workout (depending on your desired amount of exertion). Floor push-ups, wall push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, pull-ups, lunges, weights, leg lifts, and planks are just a few examples. Whether at the office or at home watching TV, calisthenics are perfect mini-workouts to incorporate into your accumulated weekly workout time.
Yoga offers the same versatility as calisthenics, with the added benefit of quieting the mind when things get a bit hectic. Like many calathensic activities, yoga poses can be adjusted to fit an individual’s fitness level and physical ability, and the level of intensity can be easily adjusted from simple stretching and breathing exercises to full-on vigorously intense workouts. While high intensity and/or extended yoga workouts are best done under the guidance of a yoga instructor, simple stretching exercises and short, moderately intense yoga sequences can be practiced safely on your own, provided you recognize and respect any physical limitations you may have. A good example of a 10-minute moderately intense yoga activity is the sun salutation sequence of poses . Don’t rush through the sequence. Do each pose with purpose and mindfulness. But keep cycling through the poses at a consistent, constant pace to get your heart rate and breathing rate up for optimal benefits. Repeat the sequence until you hit your desired time limit.
5. Arm Exercises with Weights
Strength building is an important part of your weekly physical activity regimen, and many aerobic activities are also considered strength building (e.g., stair climbing, yoga, running). Calisthenics are great strength-building exercises as well and include weight-lifting. A 5- to 10-minute weight-lifting session for your arms is particularly easy to fit into a busy schedule because it can be done at home or the office and doesn’t necessarily require any special equipment. If you don’t have any hand weights or dumbbells, no worries! Just about anything you can hold in your hand will work—a can of soup, a ream of paper, a briefcase with a handle…be creative. Resistance bands are another option (large stretchable bands that can be used to create tension in targeted muscles). Your own weight can be used to create tension and build strength as well (e.g., wall push-ups, floor push-ups). Bicep curls, tricep extensions, tricep kickbacks, lateral raises, front raises, and hammer curls are a few examples of arm exercises you can do using weights. For your 10-minute arm workout, pick a few arm exercises and do each exercise a specific number times on each arm (reps) for a specific number of sets. The muscles you are working should feel fatigued at the end of your sets, so if you find you can finish without feeling much exertion, you may need to either increase the number of reps or increase the weight.
Fitting regular physical activity into your busy weekly schedule isn’t as hard as you think! Breaking up physical activity into smaller, more manageable chunks of time (e.g., 5 to 10 minutes) throughout the day is not only efficient, it still offers the same health benefits as working out for 30 to 60 minutes or longer 3 to 5 days a week. Be creative and flexible and don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t always meet your fitness goals. Just do something. Even just 10 minutes of physical activity a day is better than no activity.
1. United States Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition. 2018. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf. Accessed 7 Dec 2022.
2. Murphy MH, Lahart I, Carlin A, Murtagh E. The Effects of Continuous Compared to Accumulated Exercise on Health: A Meta-Analytic Review. Sports Med. 2019 Oct;49(10):1585-1607. doi: 10.1007/s40279-019-01145-2. PMID: 31267483; PMCID: PMC6745307.