Let’s face it. There are days when you just can’t fit a full-blown workout into your schedule. But no worries…mounting evidence shows that short duration workouts and small bursts of exercise can work wonders and still be very beneficial to overall fitness and health.

Current exercise guidelines call for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week (or a combination of the two). However, when you simply don’t have the time, micro workouts can be an outstanding alternative.

Short exercise bursts improve fitness

Findings from a number of recent studies suggest that micro workouts can improve cardiorespiratory fitness, lower the risk for type 2 diabetes, and improve overall health. The best form of short-burst workouts combine strength, aerobic, balance, agility, flexibility, and range of movement exercise. A study from researchers at Queen’s University School of Kinesiology and Health Studies found positive health benefits even when the subjects studied were overweight and did not exercise, but recorded small bursts of physical activity as part of their everyday work.

In addition, research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that sedentary, but healthy women improved their cardiorespiratory fitness by doing just 20 seconds of vigorous stair climbing three times a day for three weeks. Researchers hypothesize that short exercise bursts may improve the heart’s pumping capacity and ability to transport oxygen throughout the body, in addition to improving markers of insulin sensitivity and lowering triglycerides.

Get the heart pumping

In fact, studies show that doing a micro workout can boost fat metabolism by as much as 43 percent. The key is selecting exercises that are challenging enough to jack up the heart rate, but last only a minute or less. Here are a few of the best:

  • Squat jumps
  • Stair climbing
  • Burpees
  • Sprints
  • Jumping jacks
  • Jumping rope
  • High jumps
  • Running in place
  • Planks
  • Pushups

While inactive people tend to gain the most from micro workouts, even gym-goers with desk jobs can reap the rewards. The harmful effects of sitting all day can be negated by breaking up sedentary periods with short burst exercises because they trigger the adaptive response of the human body and help build muscle, increase aerobic capacity and extend endurance. So, on the days you can’t fit a full-blown workout into your daily routine, try a micro workout to help maintain fitness and overall health.

Authored by Zach Meeker, Research Assistant for Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center


K. Ashlee McGuire, Ian Janssen, Robert Ross (2009). Ability of Physical Activity to Predict Cardiovascular Disease Beyond Commonly Evaluated Cardiometabolic Risk Factors, The American Journal of Cardiology, Volume 104, Issue 11. pgs. 1522-1526,

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