Exercise is extremely important for our mental and physical health. Yet it can sometimes be challenging to fit an hour at the gym into your busy schedule. Or you may be too exhausted after a day at work to follow it with a cardio session. However, there is another form of exercise that overcomes these obstacles and makes getting movement into your day much more manageable: intermittent exercise.
Intermittent exercise explained
Intermittent exercise describes the workout pattern of completing short bursts of exercise at a moderate to vigorous intensity multiple times throughout the day. No equipment is necessarily required to experience the benefits, making it a convenient and realistic option to slot into your day whenever you have a few minutes to spare. You may have time to do a few sets of sit-ups in the morning, a brisk walk at lunchtime, or some stationary lunges at your desk – every little bit adds up throughout the day.
This concept was explored in a 2018 study which concluded that brief 10-minute bouts of exercise may be just as effective as spending an hour at the gym. Another study recruited overweight females to complete aerobic training over 12 weeks and were assigned one of three different methods to complete the exercise: three 10-minute sessions per day, two 15-minute sessions per day, and one 30-minute session per day. Researchers found that all of the women lost weight and improved their endurance, regardless of the timing.
The benefits of intermittent exercise
As with all forms of exercise, intermittent exercise provides a wealth of benefits for your mental and physical health. Below are some of the benefits that have been found from various studies investigating the impact of intermittent exercise:
- Decreased triglyceride levels (a type of fat found in your blood)
- Increased levels of good cholesterol (HDL)
- Reduced total cholesterol
- Significantly improved fitness levels
- Improvements in glycosylated haemoglobin (a marker for long-term blood sugar control)
- Reduced levels of anxiety
- Improved focus
- Enhanced mood
- Boosted self-confidence
How to get started
There are countless ways that you can incorporate intermittent exercise into your routine, making it easy to keep your workouts interesting and enjoyable. Below is a guide to three different bouts of 10-minute exercises to begin with. Although the rounds are brief, each exercise should be performed at a moderate to vigorous pace:
Moderate intensity: Think of this as matching the effort needed to do a brisk walk at a pace that makes it difficult to carry a conversation.
Vigorous exertion: The intensity required to boost your moderate walk into a jog.
These exercises don’t require any equipment outside of the occasional household or office item, so there’s no need to invest in a personal gym set to start reaping the benefits! Complete each of these bouts at different times throughout the day when you have a spare 10 minutes or stick to the same workout three times. You may start your day with 10 minutes of leg exercises, slot a brisk walk into your lunchtime and complete a short arm workout after dinner. How you wish to complete your 30 minutes of exercise throughout the day is entirely up to you!
Round 1: Cardio
A brisk 10-minute walk at a moderate intensity is an excellent way to get your heart rate up and your blood circulating, not to mention a dose of fresh air. Simply set your alarm 10 minutes earlier in the morning to fit this in before you get ready for the day, or venture out of the office during your lunch break. If you feel like ramping up the intensity and don’t mind working up a bit more of a sweat, you can make this a 10-minute jog instead.
Round 2: Strengthening your legs
Spend 45 seconds on each exercise, with 15 seconds rest in-between each, then repeat the set once more.
Squats: With your feet hip-width apart and pointing forward, lower down into a squat position, ensuring that your back is flat and that your tailbone is angled towards the floor. You may wish to use a chair for precaution, lightly tapping it before driving back into a standing position.
Lunges: Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart. Extend one foot behind you and plant your toes firmly on the floor. Bend your back knee and lower down into a lunge position (making sure your knee doesn’t fall over your foot). Rise and return to your original position, repeating the motion on the other side.
Wall sit: With your feet hip-width apart and your back flat against the wall, lower down as if sitting on an invisible chair. Tuck your tailbone under and ensure that your legs are positioned with your feet directly below your knees and your thighs point straight out in front of you. Hold for 45 seconds.
Single leg calf raises: Lift one knee so that your thigh is perpendicular to your torso. On your standing leg, raise onto your toes and then lower back down. You may use a surface nearby to lightly steady yourself. Repeat for the full 45 seconds before swapping legs.
Single leg calf raises (other side): Complete the exercise above on the opposite leg.
Round 3 (if you have the time!): Building arm and core strength
This final round will focus on building strength in your arms and your core. As with the previous rounds, complete each exercise for 45 seconds, rest for 15 seconds, and then repeat the set of five exercises.
Tricep dips: Using a chair, plant your hands firmly on either side of the seat as you face outwards. Shift your pelvis so that there is a gap between your body and the edge of the chair, and bend your knees at a 90-degree angle. Bend at your elbows and lower your body until you are just hovering above the floor, then drive through your triceps back up into your original position.
Pushups: There are several ways you can modify your pushups to suit your fitness level. If completing them on your toes is not possible, you can lower to your knees or even plant your hands on a wall for a vertical alternative while you build your strength.
Plank side walk: Get into a plank position with your hands firmly planted under your shoulders and your legs extended straight behind you. Step your left arm and leg out to the side and follow with your right side. Then complete by moving in the opposite direction. If this is too much, remain in a stationary plank position or lower to your knees.
Bicep curl to press: You can use household items for this exercise, such as bottles of milk or washing detergent. Bend both arms at the same time, keep your elbows by your side as you curl your weight towards your chest, then drive your arms straight above your head. Reverse the movement and repeat.
Crunches: Using a yoga mat for comfort, sit on the floor with your feet planted in front of you and your knees bent. Rest your hands behind your head or elevated at your sides, tuck your chin to your chest and lift your upper body just until your shoulder blades lift off the floor. To enhance the difficulty, lift your legs into a tabletop position with your knees bent at a right angle.
Although each round of exercise will fly by, the benefits will add up. This helps to make exercising achievable and enjoyable for those who lead a busy lifestyle or who are new to working out. If you’re still struggling to find the time, remember that every little bit counts. There are plenty of ways you can naturally incorporate more movement into your day, such as opting for the stairs, parking further away at the shops or at work, or using a standing desk. If you’re planning a stay at Eden, our PE instructor, Cain explores intermittent exercise in his ‘Introduction to Movement’ class by providing our guests with examples of functional bodyweight exercises that are perfect for this style of training and may help inspire your exercise routine beyond your time with us.