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The 10-minute workout that could save your life

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Exercise doesn’t have to overtake your life: New research shows that just 10 minutes can have a big impact.
Written by Kim Robinson
Updated on May 31, 2022

Let’s face it, sometimes exercise can feel like a lot of work. You have to put on your gear and dig deep for motivation to get your body moving. And even if it isn’t tough to get out the door, you could probably name 1,000 other things you could be doing with your time, right?

Well, here’s the good news: Exercise doesn’t have to be long, or hard, to benefit your health in a major way.

New research in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that if everyone between the ages of 40 and 85 added just 10 minutes to their daily exercise routine, more than 110,000 lives could be saved per year. That makes getting beneficial exercise seem a lot less daunting. “Even folks who are too busy to exercise can find this amount of time,” says Olga Hays. She’s a wellness program coordinator and certified personal trainer in San Diego.

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What the exercise study found

Many Americans don’t move their bodies enough. In fact, 25% of Americans are physically inactive, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That means they don’t get any physical activity outside of what they do for their jobs.

The JAMA study used data from 4,840 adults between 40 and 85 who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They wore an activity tracker for 7 days between 2003 and 2006. The researchers then tracked that group through 2015 to see who had died and compared those names against their activity level.

After adjusting for factors such as age, sex, race, smoking and chronic health conditions, they found that adding 10 minutes of physical activity a day would reduce yearly deaths by 6.9%. That number goes up the more people exercise.

At 20 minutes it would be a 13% decrease in deaths, and at 30 minutes a 16.9% decrease. (That last statistic adds up to an estimated 270,000 lives saved each year.)

What kind of activity counts?

When you think of exercise, maybe sweating it out on the elliptical at the gym or going for a jog comes to mind. But the kind of exercise that can add years to your life doesn’t require any equipment. Anything that gets your heart rate up a bit counts, Hays says.

“You don’t need to be a triathlete or spend hours at the gym to get the benefits of physical activity,” Hays says. “Doing a short yoga routine or taking a brisk walk during your lunch break — it all matters and can make a clear difference in your health and longevity.”

Government guidelines recommend that people get between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous activity a week (or a combination of the 2). If you’re not there, don’t sweat it. You can work up to that amount. After all, the JAMA research shows that any movement is still a boon for health.

Moderate exercise is activity that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat a little. You should be able to talk but not sing. Moderate exercises include:

  • Brisk walking
  • Water aerobics
  • Riding a bike on level ground
  • Pushing a lawn mower
  • Raking leaves
  • Playing doubles tennis

Vigorous exercise makes you breathe very hard and your heart beat very quickly. Examples of these exercises include:

  • Jogging or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Riding a bike very fast or uphill
  • Playing basketball
  • Playing singles tennis

Recommended reading: How to tell if your workout is making your heart stronger.

How to make movement stick

You don’t need equipment, a gym membership or tons of time to exercise. All you need is a little motivation.

“We can all fit in at least 10 minutes of exercise daily,” says Seema Bonney, MD. She’s the medical director of the Anti-Aging & Longevity Center of Philadelphia. And you can link this activity to a habit that you’re already doing. “Think about walking or riding your bike to work or shopping, walking the dog or exercising while you watch TV,” suggests Dr. Bonney.

Some people also need the discipline of a schedule. Every weekend, Dr. Bonney looks at her calendar and blocks out time for a workout each day.

Something experts stress: When you pick an activity you enjoy doing, you’re more likely to stick with it. Sure, we all have days when our motivation waxes and wanes. But finding activities that light your fire can go a long way, even when you’re not feeling it. Here are more ways to make exercise easier (and more enjoyable).

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Try these low-fuss 10-minute workouts at home

The best movement is the kind you do. If you take away anything from the JAMA study, it’s that all physical activity is good for us. So go ahead, think outside the box.

Take a walk. Plan to take a 10-minute brisk walk (a pace between 2.5 and 4 mph) every day. That could mean going for a swift stroll on your lunch break or after dinner. On days when the weather doesn’t cooperate, march in place at home.

Do some chores. Here’s a winning combo — you can exercise and cross something off your chores list. Outdoor tasks such as raking leaves and weeding your garden count as moderate exercise. So do mopping floors, washing your car and cleaning out the garage.

Think like a kid. Children always seem to find a way to make their bodies move. And they do it in fun ways. If you have young kids, join in on their game of tag or hopscotch. Or just think like a kid and do 10 minutes of hula-hooping, jump-roping or jumping jacks, Dr. Bonney says.

Have a dance party. Aerobic dance, which is dancing fast and hard enough to sweat and breathe heavily, is a great way to move. Even if you’re not going full out, dancing works nearly every part of your body. You can groove along to an online Zumba video or simply work it out with some Beyoncé.

Move your muscles. It’s important to give your muscles a workout, too. Aim to do strength-training exercises twice a week. That could be lifting weights, yoga, Pilates or activities that use your own body weight.

Need some inspiration? Try this strength-plus-aerobic sequence for 10 minutes. (Don’t forget to use a timer.) One time through this sequence is a set. Rest for 30 seconds after each set and repeat until your time is up:

  • 5 pushups
  • 10 squats
  • 20 lunges (10 on each leg)
  • 20 jumping jacks

Sometimes all it takes to get in some daily exercise is a small step forward, such as lacing up your sneakers. Hays likes to use the 2-minute rule to get herself going. “Whenever I don’t feel like working out, I just decide I will exercise for 2 minutes,” she says. “Often, this little 2-minute start will be enough to get my motivation going and help me finish my workout.”

When it comes to your health, every small step you take each day is worth it. And don’t forget to download our free prescription savings app. It’ll help you find and save medication coupons you can use at the pharmacy.

Additional sources
Study on the benefits of 10 minutes of exercise per day: JAMA Internal Medicine (2022). “Estimated number of deaths prevented through increased physical activity among US adults”
Statistics on physical activity: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Physical activity guidelines for Americans: US Department of Health and Human Services