Are you leading a sedentary life? Are you among the 40 percent of Americans who have yet to incorporate any exercise into their daily routines? Are you among the majority of Americans (80 percent) who get less than the 30 minutes of daily exercise recommended by the US Surgeon General?
If you answered yes to those questions, odds are your excuse is that you lack the time. Your schedule is too busy. Your responsibilities are too demanding. You simply can't find an unbroken block of time each day that you can dedicate to exercise. I can relate to your predicament.
During August, my home experienced a welcomed invasion. My son and his wife, who live in Montpellier, France, along with their two boys, ages 8 and 5, joined us for an extended vacation. For most of the 30 days they lived with us, I cooked two or three meals, washed two or three loads of laundry, vacuumed and picked up clothes, toys and other belongings that seemed to scatter themselves when I wasn't looking. In between these tasks, I planned family outings and played games.
Each morning, I awoke to the sound of "Grandma, what's for breakfast?" followed by "What are we going to do today?" spoken in French-accented English. And each night, I eagerly went to bed like a tired little puppy.
The month-long effort was a labor of love. But I was reminded that once I had an extended family to care for, finding an unbroken block of time for focused exercise was out of my reach. My guests were easy going and more than willing to help with household chores. Still, I felt lucky if I was able to shower, brush my teeth, get dressed and put on makeup before the demands of the day began.
After my company left, I was delighted to learn about researchers' findings that only seven minutes of intense exercise a day can keep our bodies fit. In addition, the seven minutes do not have to be continuous—they can be broken into two or three intervals. And since body weight provides the resistance, the exercises can be done almost anywhere. When completed, the exercise routine is comparable to "a long run and a visit to the weight room."
Using body weight, a chair and a wall, the 12 exercises can be completed in about seven minutes and are designed to
- promote strength and balance for all major muscle groups;
- use body weight to create resistance and aerobic intensity;
- be flexible, adaptable and safe;
- take advantage of exercise opportunities in the surrounding environment (stairs, benches, walls); and
- allow an easy transition to rest between the intervals of intense exercise.
Thirty seconds of each intense exercise is followed by 10 seconds of rest. By following the order of the routine, some muscles are able to rest while others are being taxed. You can also repeat the circuit. (Find photographs that demonstrate each exercise here.) The 12 exercises and the focus of each are as follows:
1. Jumping jacks—total body
2. Wall sit—lower body
3. Push-up—upper body
4. Abdominal crunch—core
5. Step-up onto chair—total body
6. Squat—lower body
7. Triceps dip on chair—upper body
9. High knees/running in place—total body
10. Lunge—lower body
11. Push-up and rotation—upper body
12. Side plank—core
Though the workout takes only seven minutes, the exercises are highly intense. In effect, what you gain in time efficiency is offset by intensity. (During the short routine, you will be pressing yourself to the point of discomfort.)
If these 12 exercises are too daunting, consider tackling one minute of brisk exercise several times a day. In a National Health and Nutrition Examination survey involving 2,202 women and 2,309 men, researchers concluded that "even taking the stairs, leaving your car at the far end of the parking lot and walking briskly to the store count towards making a positive health difference." Every bit—even a minute—of intense exercise counts.
Before you undertake intense exercise, however, proceed with caution. If you are taking medication that could make you dizzy or accident prone or if you have a medical condition that compromises your ability to exercise, discuss your plans with your physician first. Don't let these conditions stop you, but do seek professional advice on where and how to begin.
Our body's need for exercise is far too important to our health to disregard. Exercise can help us lose weight, improve our outlook, increase our energy, improve our sex life and reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. Exercise can even improve our finances by improving our health to the point where we can reduce the amount of prescription and over-the-counter drugs we are taking (and paying for).
The benefits that come from incorporating exercise—whether an intense workout or a brisk walk—into our daily routines are so persuasive that I simply must turn off my computer and go outdoors for a beautiful fall hike. Will you join me?