How to Improve Your Fitness in 3 Minutes a Day

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Whether you are a former athlete or you’ve never exercised in your life, if you’re in a position where you’re currently not being active at all, it’s time for a strategy. Many of us list lack of time as our biggest limitation to starting an exercise program. This really butts heads with our common mentality that the only way start a new exercise program is to “go all in”. Unfortunately starting full boar from ground zero, often backfires.

From nothing, many of us will set lofty goals, including hour long gym sessions several days per week. If we fall short, we’re often quick to decide that it’s just ‘not meant to be’. But what if the force needed to push through your current inertia and get you started is smaller and less time consuming than you think? It’s time to consider that there’s a better way to start and continue exercising.

What if I told you that 1-3 minutes of exercise, concentrated or spread out throughout the day could improve your cardiovascular fitness? Could you start there? Embrace the something IS better than nothing mentality and build on it as you gain momentum? Most of us have minutes to invest.

The Research:

Canadian researchers out of McMaster University studied the effects of 1-3 minutes of sprint interval training on stairs, done 3 days per week for 6 weeks. They measured the effects on cardiovascular fitness. The sprint interval training used refers to intermittent bursts of vigorous exercise. Similar studies have been done using cycling.

The first studies in 2017, looked at 2 different 6 week protocols including:

  • 3×20 seconds with 2 minutes rest 3x/week for 6 weeks
  • 3x 60 seconds with 60 seconds of rest 3x/week

After the 6 week 3x 20 and 3 x 60 second interventions participants increased their VO2 Peak by 12% and 7% respectively. Both groups increased their cardiovascular fitness despite such short durations of exercise.

Two years later, in 2019, McMaster University researchers revisited the lab, this time the protocol included spreading the vigorous 20 second sprint intervals throughout the day with a minimum of 1 hour and a maximum of 4 hours between sprints. Since time constraint has often been cited as the reason for not exercising this new study aimed to see whether shorter ‘exercise snacks’ throughout the day rather than at one time, could benefit cardiovascular health.

The results of the second study showed a 5% increase in cardiovascular fitness and a 12% increase in cycling peak power output. For such a short period of time, this is a good return on investment, but if you can do the 3×20 or 3×60 seconds in one bout, like the 2017 studies, the added stress on your cardiovascular system from shorter rest periods appears to increase your fitness returns. But remember, either method is a start and the first goal is to get from nothing to something.

Just keep taking steps forward and UP!

These are noteworthy findings because they speak to the importance of doing something. These studies are not suggesting these short bursts of exercise can or should replace longer interval or exercise sessions, however they do show that there’s value in incorporating convenient accessible sprint interval training into your day and time wise it’s accessible, even if you’re a very time constrained person.

What can you do at home?

These studies used stairs and others have used cycling, but the point is the participants are getting their heart rates up with vigorous efforts, for short periods of time. You can do this using a variety of activities that require no equipment and can accomplish it right in your kitchen, beside your desk or outside. Some ideas include but are not limited to.

  • jumping jacks
  • burpees
  • fast running
  • mogul jumping side to side

Why Cardiovascular Fitness Matters:

What’s so important about improving cardiovascular fitness? Improving your cardiovascular fitness allows you to increase oxygen uptake in the lungs. When you inhale and bring oxygen to the lungs some of this goes into your bloodstream, which then flows to your heart where it is pumped out and circulates to body tissues including your muscles. Increased cardiovascular fitness means you’ll be supplying your muscles with more oxygen and which can make you more resistant to exercise fatigue. Improved cardiovascular fitness has been associated with reduced cardiovascular disease and all cause mortality.

Pushing through inertia and getting started:

For many of us the hurdle of getting started is the most difficult one. This accesssible approach can help you to overcome the common “lack of time” roadblock. By starting, you give yourself the opportunity to generate momentum. The feel good endorphins and physiological responses that often accompany exercise may also create a positive feedback loop, incentivizing you to continue. Showing up day after day can also help you feel accomplished and accomplishment is empowering. You got this!

It’s due time we stop thinking that if we aren’t doing the 1 hour workout 5 days a week, everything else is a waste of time. Everyone has to start somewhere. Don’t compare yourself to others. Surround yourself with a team of people who will celebrate your steps in the right direction.

Start with a minute a day. Guess what? There’s a possibility you may enjoy it and even give yourself a pat on the back, because you started and did something and that matters. Get some friends on board, put a calendar up on the wall and check the boxes off on the days you commit to your minute. And remember, getting the ball rolling is the hardest part, once it’s rolling you can get into a routine and soon you’ll be unstoppable.

References

ALLISON, MARY K.; BAGLOLE, JESSICA H.; MARTIN, BRIAN J.; MACINNIS, MARTIN J.; GURD, BRENDON J.; GIBALA, MARTIN J. Brief Intense Stair Climbing Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: February 2017 – Volume 49 – Issue 2 – p 298-307
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001188

Gillen JB, Percival ME, Skelly LE, et al. Three minutes of all-out intermittent exercise per week increases skeletal muscle oxidative capacity and improves cardiometabolic health. PLoS One. 2014;9(11):1-9. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0111489

Kodama S, Saito K, Tanaka S, et al.Cardiorespiratory Fitness as a Quantitative Predictor of All-Cause Mortality and Cardiovascular Events in Healthy Men and Women. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. 2009;301(19):2024–2035. doi: 10.1001/jama.2009.681.

Boreham CAG, Wallace WFM, Nevill A. Training effects of accumulated daily stair-climbing exercise in previously sedentary young women. Prev Med (Baltim). 2000;30(4):277-281. doi:10.1006/pmed.2000.0634

Loy SF, Conley LM, Sacco ER, et al. Effects of stairclimbing on V˙O2max and quadriceps strength in middle-aged females. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1994;26(2):241–

E. Madison Jenkins, Leah N. Nairn, Lauren E. Skelly, Jonathan P. Little, and Martin J. Gibala. Do stair climbing exercise “snacks” improve cardiorespiratory fitness?. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism44(6): 681-684. https://doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2018-0675

Pandey A, Cornwell WK, Willis B, et al. Body Mass Index and Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Mid-Life and Risk of Heart Failure Hospitalization in Older Age: Findings From the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study. JACC Hear Fail. 2017;5(5):367-374. doi:10.1016/j.jchf.2016.12.021

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Anne Guzman

Sports nutritionist, performance coach, former pro cyclist, life long learner. “Visualize it, believe it & do the work. You'll amaze yourself.”
Running, Cycling, Triathlon, Track Cycling, Wrestling
Hamilton, ON

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