It’s hard to oversell the benefits of daily exercise. Aside from the obvious physical effects, physical activity is linked to lower stress, improved brain function, and even decreased risk of Alzheimer’s later in life. Sounds like a magic panacea for health, right?
Except for one problem — if you’re one of the many working adults with a full-time job and a family, fitting in daily hours at the gym can present a significant logistical challenge. Luckily, new research suggests that boosting your brain and body is easier to fit into your routine than ever before.
A new study by the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) found that just 20 minutes a day of low-to-medium-intensity exercise can measurably improve cognitive function. Furthermore, every additional hour per week of exercise reduced brain aging by more than one year.
The baseline for beneficial levels of exercise comes from the 2018 Physical Activity-Guidelines for Americans, which suggests that 150 minutes per week (or about 20 minutes per day) of physical activity yields health benefits for the body and mind. While the most substantial health results come from moderate-to-vigorous intensity exercise, the Boston University study found that benefits were measured at lower intensities too, and even in individuals who didn’t hit the recommended 150-minute mark.
“Every additional hour of light intensity physical activity was associated with higher brain volumes, even among individuals not meeting current Physical Activity-Guidelines. These data are consistent with the notion that potential benefits of physical activity on brain aging may accrue at a lower, more achievable level of intensity or volume,” says Nicole Spartano, Ph.D., research assistant professor of medicine at BUSM.
So what does this mean for your workout routine?
Take advantage of movement in your day
If you can’t make time for a long sweat session, don’t worry — even a little bit of activity — a Microstep — goes a long way. Sneak in some exercise by taking advantage of “incidental physical activity” (exercise that fits into your daily life, such as walking or biking to work, and taking the stairs instead of the elevator).
Break up your workout
If a full hour-long gym session is untenable for you, try breaking your workout into smaller chunks. If you’re tight on time, get active for, say, 15 minutes twice a day, rather than 30 minutes all at once.
Making small adjustments to your activity level throughout the day can help you sharpen your body and mind without feeling like you’re sacrificing anything on your to-do list — and could even give you the midday energy boost needed to get everything done.
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