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Exercise: Get it done in minutes

Focused on Health - February 2013

by Laura Nathan-Garner

You’re busy. And, many days, exercise may be the first thing to go.

exercise, minutesBut it shouldn’t be. After all, 30 minutes of daily moderate physical activity can help your body fight off many cancers and other diseases. 

Luckily, you don’t have to get your 30 minutes of exercise all at once. “You can break your daily workout into three 10-minute or two 15-minute chunks as your schedule allows and still benefit from the activity,” says Karen Basen-Engquist, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Behavioral Science at MD Anderson.

Is 30 minutes of exercise too much for you? Even 15 minutes of daily exercise can increase your life expectancy by up to three years, says recent research.

Feel like you don’t even have 15 minutes to spare? Below are some easy ways to get your heart pumping — even when you’ve only got a minute.

“Some exercise is better than no exercise,” Basen-Engquist says. “And, starting small can help you gradually work up to a full 30 minutes of exercise a day.”

1-2 minutes of exercise: Take the stairs.

Have a healthy heart and in reasonably good shape? Skip the elevator or escalator, and take the stairs at work and when doing errands.

You’ll get your heart pumping, build muscle, strengthen your bones and burn calories. And, the more often you take the stairs, the bigger the payoff.

Added bonus: taking the stairs may mean less time in your chair. And, that’s good news since just a one-minute break from sitting may help curb your cancer risk.

5 minutes of exercise: Stretch.

Sneak in exercise by stretching your back, forearms, wrists, legs and hamstrings. You don’t even have to leave your desk.

In return, you’ll enjoy more energy, better circulation and improved flexibility. And, that may make other types of exercise easier.

Even better: Stretching helps relieve muscle tension and stress. That’s good news because ongoing stress can weaken your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight off diseases like cancer.

exercise, walkingGet started with these easy stretches. Or, use our stretch at your desk video.

10-15 minutes of exercise: Take a brisk walk.

Lace up your tennis shoes for a short walk during your lunch-hour, walking meetings with co-workers or a quick trip around the neighborhood.

You’ll reap the benefits of a better metabolism, stronger bones, less stress and a healthier blood pressure. Walking also may help curb your risk of breast cancer.

Just keep in mind that a casual stroll won’t do the trick.

“For walking to count as exercise, you should be a little out of breath and feel your heart beating a little faster,” says Basen-Engquist. “You should be able to talk in short sentences, but not sing.”

20 minutes of exercise: Tidy up your home.

Dread cleaning the house? Here’s some good news: tidying up can qualify as aerobic activity.

exercise, minutes“Just make sure you’re getting your heart rate up at a consistent level,” Basen-Engquist says.

So, focus on repetitive activities that use large muscle groups, like your legs and back. This includes vacuuming, mopping, scrubbing, gardening and even taking multiple trips upstairs to put away laundry.

30 minutes of exercise: Pick your favorite routine.

A half-hour is the perfect amount of time for almost any exercise routine. Spend your 30 minutes practicing yoga, jogging, biking, taking a fun, high-energy dance class like Zumba or trying a trendy new exercise class.

“The most important thing is to do something you enjoy,” Basen-Engquist says. “That way, you won’t be counting the minutes until your workout ends.”

And, if you enjoy a certain type of exercise, you’re more likely to keep doing it — even when you only have a few minutes to spare.

So, what are you waiting for? Get up and take a quick exercise break!

Related Links
How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need? (CDC)
How Sitting and Moving Link to Cancer Risk (AICR)
Walking: Boost Your Summer Stride (MD Anderson)

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center