Getting enough exercise can be a major challenge, which is why, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 75 percent of us don’t do it. Among the many reasons we don’t exercise, the most common one is that we simply can’t fit it into our busy schedules. With work, family commitments, and household chores, the thought of getting a 30- or 45-minute workout in, along with time to change clothes and shower, can be overwhelming. The standard recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week is a big ask that just doesn’t align well with the many other demands placed on our time.

That’s where the idea of “bite-sized workouts” offers a very doable solution. These exercise sessions that last minutes can be spread throughout the day and can be squeezed into the busiest schedule. It’s an approach to physical activity that dismantles the standard exercise formula but still offers many of the same powerful benefits.

Instead of scheduling a few long exercise sessions into an already busy week, you incorporate “micro” sessions several times throughout the day. These sessions don’t require you to change into gym clothes, shower, or refuel with electrolytes. They don’t require gym memberships or even, necessarily, any special equipment. They are doable by anyone, practically anywhere.

Old Advice

Ironically, as revolutionary as this idea is to our 21st-century mindsets, it’s actually an approach that is as old as humanity and more closely mimics the active lifestyles practiced in those areas of the world where life expectancy is the longest and chronic disease is the lowest—the Blue Zones.

In these areas, which include Okinawa, Japan, and Sardinia, Italy, the vibrant senior population generally doesn’t go to the gym for exercise. They also don’t invest in weightlifting equipment for their basements, personal trainers, or dietary supplements. In fact, they don’t even necessarily make a point of “exercising” at all. Instead, substantial amounts of low-tech physical activity are a routine part of their day-to-day lives. In the Blue Zones, extensive walking is common, as are gardening, tending animals, and other household chores that require physical exertion.

In areas with long life expectancy, physical activity like gardening and doing household chores is a routine part of people’s lives. (Getty Images)

Modern Appeal

Interestingly, recent research supports this approach to exercise. A meta-analysis published in the October 2019 edition of Sports Medicine compared the health benefits of a single long exercise session with those of multiple short bouts of exercise that amounted to the “​​same total duration, mode, and intensity of exercise” over the course of a day and found that “adults are likely to accrue similar health benefits from exercising in a single bout or accumulating activity from shorter bouts throughout the day.”
An article published on Dec. 7, 2022, in the European Heart Journal titled “Vigorous Physical Activity, Incident Heart Disease, and Cancer: How Little Is Enough?” reviewed a group of 71,893 adults taken from the UK Biobank cohort. Participants wore wrist-worn accelerometers. Researchers measured the total accumulated volume of vigorous physical activity (VPA) over the course of each week and the frequency of bouts of activity that lasted just two minutes or less. Participants were followed for an average of 6.9 years, and researchers analyzed the association of the volume and frequency of VPA with death (all-cause mortality, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, or CVD).

The results were surprising. The study authors reported that “15 minutes per week [of VPA] was associated with a 16 to 18 percent lower all-cause and cancer mortality risk, and 20 minutes per week was associated with a 40 percent lower CVD mortality risk.” And with increased vigorous activity came an increased chance of longevity: 53 minutes of VPA resulted in a 36 percent lowered risk of death from any cause.

Study author Matthew N. Ahmadi of the University of Sydney told The Epoch Times, “These were very encouraging findings, as it highlights the potential health-enhancing benefits that can be obtained through short bursts of activity that don’t necessarily have to be long and sustained periods of exercise only.”

Mr. Ahmadi added: “The appeal of these short bursts is that they can be done through our everyday activities and do not require any specialized equipment or facilities. For the average person who has limited or no leisure time to dedicate to long workouts, they can still gain substantial health benefits through activities they are already doing in their everyday life if they are able to increase the intensity or pace in short bursts throughout the day. Any activity that makes a person ‘huff and puff’ or gets the heart rate elevated is contributing towards accumulating these health-enhancing bursts of activity.”

Maybe a single 30-minute walk is too hard to fit in during the workday, but three 10-minute walks can be easily managed. Any amount of physical activity is better than none. And everyone, no matter how busy, can find a few minutes per day to move.

Try It Yourself

Certified personal trainer and co-founder of Andrew White offers five exercise “snacks” that virtually anyone can do—and that take less than five minutes each.

Desk Chair Squats

How to Do It: Stand up from your chair, then lower your body back down, stopping right before you sit back down. Aim for 1 to 2 minutes of continuous chair squats.
(Anussara Phromkrasear/iStock/Getty Images)
(Anussara Phromkrasear/iStock/Getty Images)
Benefits: This exercise targets your glutes, thighs, and core and can be done almost anywhere, making it perfect for office settings or while working from home.

Stair Climbing

How to Do It: Find a flight of stairs and go up and down for 3 to 5 minutes.
Benefits: Stair climbing is an excellent cardiovascular activity that also strengthens your lower body, particularly your quads, hamstrings, and calves.

Wall Push-Ups

How to Do It: Stand a few feet away from a wall, place your hands flat against it, and perform push-ups. Do this for 1 to 2 minutes.
(lioputra/iStock/Getty Images)
(lioputra/iStock/Getty Images)
Benefits: This version of push-ups builds strength in your chest, shoulders, and arms and is suitable for all fitness levels.

Seated Leg Lifts

How to Do It: While sitting, straighten one or both legs and hold in place for a few seconds, then lower the leg(s) back to the ground. Do this for 2 to 3 minutes.
Benefits: Great for toning leg muscles and improving core strength, this exercise is discreet and can be done even in a formal work environment.

Jumping Jacks

How to Do It: Perform jumping jacks for 1 to 2 minutes. This classic exercise is quick and easy to do.

Benefits: Jumping jacks are a full-body workout that helps improve cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance.