When it comes to fitting movement into the day, many of us are stuck with an all-or-nothing mentality. We only feel accomplished when we hit 10,000 steps, or find the time to complete a lengthy at-home workout, and brush off any other efforts we make to get our bodies up and moving. But that perspective can hinder our progress. Our perfectionist definitions of “what counts” are actually holding us back from reaching our full movement potential, says Michelle Segar, Ph.D., the director of the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center.
“Most people’s beliefs reflect the ‘no pain, no gain’ philosophy. The problem is when people believe that exercise is only worth doing if it meets specific standards of duration, intensity, and activity type — they have rigid, fixed definitions and goals,” Segar tells Thrive. And of course, the truth is that any amount of movement is worthwhile — especially as many of us are working from home, and may be spending a lot of time on the couch.
Research confirms that small bursts of activity throughout the day come with a host of health benefits, including a reduced risk of early death. The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, specifically found that swapping just 30 minutes of sitting with low-intensity physical activity lowered the risk of premature death by 17%. Another study conducted by Oregon State University found that small bouts of movement, lasting even as little as one or two minutes, that add up to about 30 minutes a day can be just as effective as a longer workout you might do at the gym. And considering that many gyms and exercise studios are still closed due to the pandemic, it’s reassuring to know that there are ways to keep up with our movement goals from our own homes and neighborhoods. All in all, this research adds to the growing support of “active living,” a lifestyle that incorporates physical activity into our existing daily routines. Active living might look like taking the stairs whenever possible or simply lifting a full laundry basket a few times on your way to folding your clothes, and can lower your risk of cancer, heart disease, and depression.
If you’ve fallen off your usual regimen, starting with just 10 minutes of light physical activity is a great way to jump back on the movement train. Go ahead and block off time for it right now. You might even consider making it part of your workday routine, since research shows that taking short exercise breaks can promote attention and learning.