Conventional wisdom tells us that exercise counts only if we do it for a minimum of 30 minutes. And if you don’t have that much time? Then it’s not worth getting up from your desk or couch, right?
“Wrong,” says resiliency expert and personal trainer Jenny Evans, CPT.
“We’re told ‘go big or go home.’ As a society, we underestimate the power of small, especially when it comes to change,” argues Evans, author of The Resiliency rEvolution and creator of the workout card game Hit the Deck. “In reality, small efforts adding up over time is how big change actually happens.”
On a neurological level, brief bouts of exercise have been shown to improve our ability to process information, maintain focus, store and recall memories, solve problems, make decisions, and even tap into our creativity. (See “This is Your Brain on Exercise“.)
“Microbursts,” as Evans calls them, are also effective at releasing the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, helping to regulate our mood, fine-tune our attention, and enhance our learning skills.
Physiologically, as little as one minute of moving around improves circulation, carrying energy in the form of oxygen and glucose throughout the body.
“Get up and move for a few minutes at least once every hour, if not more,” suggests Evans. “It doesn’t have to be anything crazy. Go grab a drink of water. Go do a quick task in another part of the house or office.”
For a quick burst of intensity, pick one of the following six moves and perform it for one minute. Start with one minute a day and work your way up to one minute every hour you spend sitting.
Standing Knee Raise
- Stand tall with knees hip-width apart.
- Brace your core and raise one knee as high as you can without bending, twisting, or leaning back.
- Alternate sides, lifting one knee at a time.
- Variations include grabbing the shin of the raised leg and giving it a squeeze, slowing the movement down by holding each raise for two counts, or speeding it up into a fast-paced high-knee march.
- Stand in front of a sturdy box, bench, counter, or desk and assume a high-plank position, with hands on the elevated surface. Position your body so your hands are slightly wider than shoulder width, your arms extended (but not locked), and your body straight from heels to the top of your head.
- Keeping your body straight and your head in a neutral position, engage your core and squeeze your glutes. Bend your arms and retract your shoulder blades to lower yourself until your arms form 90-degree angles.
- Reverse the movement, pushing yourself back to the starting position without breaking the straight line from head to heels.
Bob and Weave
- Begin standing with feet together and raise your hands up to form loose fists in front of your chin.
- Step your left foot directly to the left while simultaneously bending your knees to squat down like you’re trying to duck under something.
- Shift your weight all the way to the left then return to standing and bring your feet together.
- Repeat, this time moving in the opposite direction.
- Note: These instructions are for fitness purposes only and not sufficient for shadowboxing, sparring, or self-defense.
- Stand with your feet about hip width apart.
- Step forward with one foot, keeping your chest proud and shoulders squared over your hips.
- Allow both knees to bend, with your back knee hovering just above the floor. (Adjust the length of your stride as needed.)
- Keep your front knee in line with your middle toe. Take care not to relax the back leg at the bottom of the move.
- Reverse the movement by pressing through your heel and stepping your front foot back to the starting position.
- Repeat with the opposite foot, and alternate sides for the duration of your interval.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Squat down, and then with one explosive movement, jump up as high as you can.
- Upon landing, squat down and immediately jump again.
Make it easier: Perform squats. Brace your core, and, with control, bend your knees and hips to squat down until your thighs are below parallel to the ground. Press through your feet to stand up. Squeeze your glutes at the top to achieve a full lockout. Repeat.
- Stand with your feet together and your arms by your sides.
- Jump both of your feet out a little wider than shoulder width apart while simultaneously bringing your arms over your head.
- Bring your arms back down and jump your feet back together to return to your starting position. Repeat.
This article originally appeared as “The One-Minute Brain Break” in the October 2022 issue of Experience Life.