You overslept again and now there's not enough time to work out. Better just skip the gym to and wait until tomorrow, right? Think again! Contrary to popular belief, exercise doesn't have to take up hours of your day. Shorter, more intense bouts can have just as many benefits as longer sweat sessions.
Not having enough time is often one of the main reasons people avoid exercise, but are you really that busy? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week (about 20 minutes a day). But people who choose vigorous-intensity exercise can knock that number down to 75 minutes a week. That's only 10 minutes a day!
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Even if you only have 10 to 15 minutes, you can fit in a heart-pumping cardio workout, either on a cardio machine or using your own body weight. To get the most benefit, up the intensity when you do exercise, such as with interval training.
Read more: What Activities Actually Count as Cardio?
Start With an Easy, Breezy Cardio Workout
When it comes to exercise, something is always better than nothing. So even if you can only squeeze in a 10-minute walk with your dog around the block after work, do it! Or if you have phone calls to make, walk while you talk. Anything that gets your heart rate elevated and your muscle moving is good for you.
Feeling adventurous? Try a body-weight cardio workout. Set a timer for one minute and pick 10 of your favorite exercises and do each for 60 seconds (or pick 5 exercises, doing each one twice). These can include:
- Walking lunges
- Reverse lunges
- Lateral lunges
- Sumo squats
- Squat jumps
- Side planks
Or put on your favorite song and dance around your living room for 10 minutes. You'll burn some calories and be in a great mood!
Use Intervals to Make the Most of Your Time
Interval training uses bouts of higher-intensity exercise alternated with short rest periods to up your calorie burn and improve your cardiorespiratory fitness. In fact, it can elicit physiological adaptations comparable to endurance training, despite a much lower training volume and time commitment, according to a January 2008 study published in The Journal of Physiology.
Additionally, a January 2017 study published in PLOS ONE found that high-intensity interval training is more likely to promote self-efficacy and enjoyment of exercise, especially in people who are inactive.
Shorter workouts are a great way to fit in exercise. Two moderate-intensity, 10- to 15-minute cardio workouts can help boost your overall health, improve your mood and burn calories. For example, try taking a 15-minute power walk before and after work.
If you prefer high-intensity workouts, performing one short session a day most days of the week will suffice. Training for a race or looking to pick up the pace? Consider adding a second, 10- to 15-minute session a few days a week or adding in one to two days of steady-state cardio exercise, such as running for 30 to 45 minutes.
Design Your Own Quick Cardio Interval Workout
For a beginner, an interval training program might consist of walking at a comfortable pace for a few minutes, speeding it up for a minute or two, then bringing it back to a moderate pace (moderate interval training.) So it might look like this:
- Warm-up: 2 minutes at an easy pace
- 1 minute: power walk
- 3 minutes: walk at an easy pace
- Repeat 3 times
For advanced exercisers, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can include periods of intense activity such as sprints, rowing, spinning and jump roping, followed by a short recovery period. Try this sample HIIT cardio workout:
- Warm-up: 2 minutes at an easy pace
- 1 minute: high-intensity activity (performed at 80 to 90 percent of your estimated max heart rate)
- 2 minutes: low- to moderate-intensity activity (performed at 40 to 50 percent of your estimated max heart rate)
- Repeat this 3-minute circuit until you reach 12 minutes (4 times total).
Then experiment with the length of the intervals (30 seconds of work with 15 seconds of rest or two minutes of work with one minute of active recovery) and the type of cardio you're doing (think: treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike). You can even do body-weight cardio.
Try Tabata Training for a Tight Schedule
Tabata training has increased in popularity recently as exercisers search for new ways to make time for their workouts. The focus is super short, all-out bursts of activity followed by a quick recovery period. Each exercise block only lasts four minutes, but it's guaranteed to be the most intense four minutes of exercise you've ever done.
- Warm-up: 3 to 5 minutes of dynamic stretches and cardio drills
- 20 seconds: work out as hard as you can
- 10 seconds: rest
- Repeat for eight rounds total.
- Cooldown: 2 to 3 minutes of light cardio and static stretches
A sample 10- to 15- minute Tabata routine might have you walk quickly on an incline or sprint for eight rounds of 20 seconds all-out and 10 seconds of rest. You could also do eight rounds of intense kettlebell swings for 20 seconds with 10-second rest. Or try eight rounds of 20 seconds of jumping rope as quickly as possible alternated with the 10 seconds of rest.
If you plan on upping the intensity of your exercise, make sure your body can handle it. High-intensity-interval training and Tabata are not slow and steady and do require a higher level of fitness. Pay attention to how your body feels.
If anything hurts, you have a shortness of breath that does not get better with rest, you feel faint or your heart rate is not recovering, stop exercising. When you return to exercise, reduce the intensity and stick to moderate level workouts.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Physical Activity Basics
- PLOS ONE: High-Intensity Interval Training Elicits Higher Enjoyment than Moderate Intensity Continuous Exercise
- The Journal of Physiology: Similar metabolic adaptations during exercise after low volume sprint interval and traditional endurance training in humans