A little movement is better than none: How small micro-workouts can have a big impact

SBM: a-little-movement-is-better-than-none-how-small-micro-workouts-can-have-a-big-impact

Maria Misiura, PhD, Georgia State University


For older adults, exercise can reduce depression and stress, lower hypertension (high blood pressure), and improve cognition. But maybe you haven’t jumped (lunged, squatted, or burpeed) into a physical activity routine just yet. Or, perhaps you already exercise regularly but want to be a bit more active to break up those days spent reading the newspaper or watching television. 

For a variety of reasons, exercising in large chunks of time is not feasible for everyone. Busy schedules, fatigue or other symptoms from chronic illnesses, or feeling overwhelmed can make it difficult to exercise for longer periods of time. Fortunately, research suggests that smaller bouts of exercise are a great way for older adults to maintain or improve their physical function. Read on for some helpful tips on how you can give your activity levels a little boost with big health benefits. 


Have a spare 5 minutes? Why not try a micro-workout (smaller, short bouts of exercise)? Although traditional exercise sessions may last 20-30 minutes, recent research shows that high intensity exercise lasting as little as 1 minute can have cardiovascular and insulin resistance benefits. 

Micro-workouts have proven to have many positive benefits. In one study, a 10-minute workout three times per week increased endurance by nearly 20 percent and participants had increased insulin resistance at the end of the study. A large study linked longer life spans with running as little as 5 minutes a day. High blood pressure seems to be more easily controlled with three 10-minute walks rather than one 30-minute walk. The overarching theme seems to be that some movement is better than no movement, and that every little of movement bit counts. 

Example micro-workouts:

  • Squatting for 40 seconds, resting for 20 seconds, and repeating this 5 times at 3 different times throughout the day.
  • Doing 30 jumping jacks followed by 30 squats, resting for 10 seconds, and repeating this 3 times.
  • If limited mobility, weakness, or pain limits the exercise you can do, try out some of these moves specifically for older adults:

Creating a Micro-Workout Plan

Here are a few important steps to cultivating new habit, which could help with starting a micro-workout routine. 

  1. Identify your goals.
    Grab a pen and paper and write down your specific goals for short bouts of physical activity. What do you want to achieve and why? You are more likely to achieve your goals if you keep them digestible and specific. For example, “I want to jog in place for 2 minutes, 3 times a day to help improve my endurance," is a more specific goal than “I want to move more.” 
  2. Identify the barriers that could keep you from achieving and maintaining this goal. 
    Older adults frequently report physical pain, lack of confidence, and time constraints as barriers to exercise. Do any of these apply to you? Here are a few tips.
    • Address pain or other symptoms: Start with an activity that seems manageable and slowly increase resistance and/or difficulty. Remind yourself that you can take breaks and/or stop as needed. Talk with your doctor or physical therapist about tips or exercises that might be best for your condition.
    • Build confidence: Write words of encouragement on a notecard. Let a friend or family member know about your goal and ask them for words of support. Play your favorite upbeat song to keep your spirits up. 
    • Find time: Luckily, micro-workouts are brief! Remind yourself that just a few minutes of activity can have big benefits. 
    • Ensure safety: Discuss your plans with your doctor or physical therapist before starting.
  3. Maintain your new habits.
    You’ve done your micro-workout, and now you’re ready to relax. Great job, you’ve earned yourself a break! But do consider moving—even just for a little—several more times throughout the day. Sitting for extended periods of time increases insulin resistance, and can increase hypertension. 

Breaking up your day with short bouts of activity eases the issue of time constraints and can be easily incorporated into your daily routine by building small, manageable habits over time. 

Every Quick Workout Counts

Do not let perfection be the enemy of the good. Doing any activity is most certainly better than none. Set an alarm on your phone or smart watch, add a reminder to your calendar to stand up and move at least once every hour, or download an app that will automatically remind you. These behaviors may initially seem overwhelming – but over time, these habits will become second nature as you integrate daily movement into your lifestyle. 


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