As many people know, the effects of prolonged sitting can be damaging to our health. When job requirements or long commutes, or even just getting some down time in front of the TV, extend our sedentary hours, our health can suffer. Regular exercise of just 150 minutes a week is important for overall health and longevity—but trying to find time for a workout amid other obligations can be difficult. The good news is, quick workouts can help you get a healthy amount of exercise each day. Here are some ideas to keep you moving, but be sure to talk to your doctor about what kind of exercise is right for you.
150 minutes may sound like a lot, but it’s only 30 minutes 5 days a week
A program of both strength training and cardio offers the best combination of exercise for your body. While that’s an ideal recommendation, the best exercise is the one you’ll do regularly and consistently. Try a combination of these strength training exercises and cardio workouts to maximize the health benefits of your 30-minute workout. (Don’t forget to warm up before you get started to prevent injury.)
Strength training should involve both your upper and lower body
You can use exercise equipment to do your strength training, but you can also use your own body weight to create resistance. To work your upper body, including your arms, chest and shoulders, try doing a few repetitions of push-ups. Start in a plank position—hands shoulder-width apart on the floor in front of you, back straight, on your toes. With your hands just below shoulder level and abs tight, bend your elbows and lower your body slowly to the floor and back up. That’s one rep. Do 10 reps, take a break, and then do 10 more. You can drop to your knees if doing the push-up from your feet is too challenging. You can also try incline push-ups, leaning against a waist-high surface so your body slants at a 45-degree angle.
Work your lower body with a few squats
Trying doing squats to work your quads, hips and calves. Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back straight, bend your hips and knees and drop about eight inches, as if you were going to sit down, and then stand back up. You can put your hands out in front of you to help keep your balance. That’s one rep. If you need to start slower, you can begin the exercise sitting down. Sit on the edge of a chair with your arms crossed over your chest. Flex your abs, stand up, and then sit back down—that’s one rep. Do 8 to 12 reps.
If you have dumbbells, try some curls to build strength in your arms
You can use dumbbells of any weight to build muscle in your biceps and triceps. To work your biceps, hold your weights at your sides, and bend your elbows to bring the weights up to shoulder height. Then lower your arms back down without letting them swing—move purposefully to make the most of this exercise. If you want to work your lower body at the same time, add some lunges. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and step forward with one foot, lowering your body down using both knees. Then do your bicep curl, and stand back up. That’s one rep. Repeat with your other leg for a total of 10 reps per leg.
Don’t forget to work your triceps with those dumbbells, too
To work your triceps, stand with your feet hip-width apart, leaning slightly forward with your knees bent. Keep your back straight, and bend your elbows so they’re at a 90-degree angle and your triceps (back of your arms) are parallel with your back. Pull your shoulder blades back and straighten your arms to lift the dumbbells back toward your buttocks. Don’t move your upper arms while you make this move. Then bring your arms back to the start position without letting them swing. This exercise also works your abdominal muscles. Do 10 reps each arm.
Some exercises work your whole body at once
Several different moves in plank position will work your entire body. Start in plank position and try bringing your knee forward and your head down, as if trying to touch your nose to your knee. Straighten your leg, without dropping your foot to the floor. Do this 10 times, and then switch legs. As alternatives, bring your knee to your elbow, or bring your knee toward the opposite elbow. To add cardio, try mountain climber—start in plank position, and then rapidly bring your knee to your chest and back down, alternating sides.
Low-impact exercises keep pressure off your joints
If your joints could use a break, there are plenty of low-impact exercises that take the pressure off. Spin classes on a stationary bike take the pressure off your knees and hips. Hop on a rowing machine to build endurance while working all your major muscle groups. If you have access to a pool, swimming laps is a great low-impact exercise that combines cardio and strength training. And good old walking is also low-impact. Do it on a treadmill indoors, or outside with no equipment at all. Walk at a brisk pace for a moderate-intensity workout.
You can get 30 minutes of exercise without even realizing it
If you can’t get 30 straight minutes of exercise in, don’t worry! Doing 30 minutes’ worth of daily exercise in several 5- to 10-minute chunks still offers the same benefits to your long-term health. Take a short walk on your lunch break and after dinner; pace during a phone call; park in the back of the lot at the grocery store. Do a few squats while you brush your teeth or during TV commercial breaks. Walk faster than usual and pump your arms. These few extra minutes of movement will add up at the end of the day.
Remember, something is always better than nothing
Even if you don’t hit 150 minutes a week, it’s still worth it to keep doing what you can. Research has shown that just one-third of that amount of time—48 minutes each week—lowered study participants’ risk of major disability compared with people who didn’t exercise at all. And keep in mind, in addition to regular exercise, it’s still important to get up and move regularly, even for just two or three minutes throughout the day if you spend a lot of time sitting. Studies have shown that’s one of the best ways to combat the damaging health effects of sitting all day.