When it comes to exercise, you’ve probably heard that doing something is better than doing nothing. Turns out, science supports that adage. People who did 150 minutes of moderate-intensity leisure activities (which could simply be walking) had a 14 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease, compared to those who reported no exercise or physical activity, according to a 2011 meta analysis of 33 studies published in the journal Circulation. While that translates to about 22 minutes a day, you can get yourself started with even less.
Start your day with some movement—we’re suggesting a 5-minute workout—to set a health-conscious tone.
While you might think mornings are too hectic for you to find time to work out, many morning exercisers say that getting a workout done first thing helps eliminate all of those unexpected deterrents that can crop up later in the day and keep you from exercising. What’s more, a recent, albeit quite small, study out of Japan showed that young women who exercised before eating breakfast had higher fat oxidation for the next 24 hours.
It can be tough to start a morning exercise habit, but setting yourself up for success the night before can help. Set your alarm for 10 minutes earlier so you give yourself time to pull on your workout clothes and shoes before tacking a 5-minute morning routine. Plus, starting small is a whole lot less intimidating then a full 30- or 45-minute routine—while still being effective.
“Five minutes every day of focused work can make a difference,” says Duncan Larkin, who has been writing about running for over 20 years and just published his second book, The 30-Minute Runner: Smart Training for Busy Beginners.
“The best part of this is the ‘every day’ part—the consistency,” he says. “Through consistency, you can form healthy habits, and the body’s natural curiosity to push limits and find the next horizon line will make you go from 5 minutes one week to 7 minutes the next,” he says. “Before you realize it, you’ll be doing 30 or 45 minutes of work.” (We appreciate your faith in us, but one step at a time here, Larkin!)
Larkin’s suggestion is to spend your five minutes doing planks. “Planking is an excellent total-body exercise that works your core, arms, shoulders, and back,” he says.
This can be five 1-minute planks, 10 30-second planks, or any variation to make it to the total 5 minutes.
Lie on your stomach on an exercise mat or the floor with your elbows close to your sides and directly under your shoulders, palms down and hands facing forward. Squeeze your abs in and tighten your glutes (butt muscles) lifting your entire body off the floor into a straight line—like a board or plank. You might want to try this in front of a mirror or reflective surface at first to make sure your hips aren’t up and you’re not sagging down. Hold for 30 seconds, 45 seconds, or one minute while breathing normally. Gently lower your body back towards the mat or floor for a break. I find it helpful to have my phone’s stopwatch in front of me.
Start in a push-up position with the hands under your shoulders and the legs stretched out directly behind you. Keep your body in line, making sure hips don’t go up or sag to the ground. Hold for your desired plank length, breathing normally. You can eventually increase the intensity of this exercise by raising one foot off the ground a few inches and holding that position, keeping abs tight. Alternate each foot in the air for a few seconds for the duration of your plank.
Lie on your right side on the floor or a mat with extended legs, placing your left leg directly over your right leg, stacking your feet one on top of the other. Place your right elbow directly under your shoulder. Contract your core muscles to stiffen your spine and lift your hips and knees off the mat, keeping contact with the side of your right foot and head in line with your spine. Keep your right elbow positioned directly under your shoulder. The left hand can rest on your left hip or go straight up in the air. Hold your body in the air for 30 seconds and gently return yourself to your starting position. Switch to your other side and repeat. You can increase the intensity by lifting the top leg in the air and extending the left arm at the same time.
From a push-up position with arms extended, squeeze your thighs and butt muscles to keep your body and legs in a straight line, and lower down to the elbows one elbow at a time. From this position on the elbows, press the hands into the floor one at a time to return to the push-up position. Start with 30 seconds of this challenging exercise.
Take rest breaks between sets while you’re working up to five minutes of plank holds. Try 30 seconds of planks followed by 30 seconds of rest. Eventually increase the time you’re holding your plank and try to decrease the rest time as you get stronger, Larkin suggests.
Don’t love planks? Just get on down to the floor and start building your upper body strength with push-ups.
“I’m a huge fan of the good old fashioned push-up,” says Chris Heuisler, the Global Run Concierge for Westin Hotels & Resorts. “Start small. Write down how many push-ups you would like to accomplish in 5 minutes in the morning and aim to do that three to four times in one week. Track your progress and, in time, it not only becomes a habit, but it becomes something you can be proud of because you have documentation to prove it,” Heuisler said.
Personally, I like to try to squeeze in some movement while the coffee is brewing or my puppy is eating his breakfast. I do squats and lunges in the kitchen, or, I recently embarked on a daily burpee challenge with friends on Facebook this December. I started with 15 the first week, 20 the following, 25 the third week and working towards 30 the final week. I missed some days and on other days I broke it up into 10 rep chunks, but it felt good to do something that got my heart rate up and the accountability factor was a big help!
Inspired? Check out these micro-workouts you can do while it takes time for the coffee to brew.