Forgive me while I get up on my soapbox this week. But I’m tired of seeing articles like this:
Here are a few other headlines that I’ve seen recently:
In my opinion, these articles are promoting a minimalist approach to exercise that I think is misleading and even dangerous.
I’m used to research being exaggerated in the media, but in the last few weeks, I’ve also heard from (and debated with) several different fitness experts, health coaches, and personal trainers that also promote this hogwash to their clients. They’ll say, “With my new technique/training approach/diet plan/piece of equipment, x minutes a day is all you need!
The problem with these messages (and the reason these articles and strategies are popular,) is they fool people into focusing on the minimal amounts of exercise necessary to show some benefit, while allowing them to happily live their sedentary lifestyle spending 8-10 hours a day sitting at a desk and staring at a screen. This is NOT HEALTHY.
Don’t get me wrong. The research behind these shorter workouts is valid. These minimalist workouts do work, and I do them myself when time is short. But they work minimally. Here is how the headlines should read:
12 minutes of Exercise a Week is better than Nothing, or
7 minutes of Exercise a Day is enough to Make an Inactive Sloth mildly Fitter, or
If You Can Only Spend 20 Minutes a Day on your Health, High Intensity Training is a Great Option
These articles are great if they motivate someone who is sedentary to begin working out. And for someone who is time-challenged, I do believe that 3 or 7 or 12 minutes a day is infinitely better than doing nothing. But if you are truly interested in fitness, health or wellbeing, you need to move your body, and in most cases more is better.
“Whoa,” some people will say, “what about the risks of ‘over-training’ I’ve been reading about? What about the importance of ‘rest days’”?
Any new exercise program should be worked up to in a gradual progression. But otherwise, unless you are a highly competitive athlete, you probably don’t need to worry about working out too much. Most people are nowhere near their upper limits. Listen to your body, bring diversity into your training, and move more (see my article on why working out every day is better than 3 times a week.)
When you set the minimums as your goal, it’s too easy to fall short. And yet in our time-starved, productivity-focused culture, it’s so tempting to ask, “what’s the minimum I can do?”
Better questions to ask might be,
“How can I maximize my physical health?”
“What would be possible with my body if was willing to invest time and effort into an exercise program?”
“What are my long term health goals, and what’s the best way to accomplish them?”
I can assure you that the answers to these questions cannot be found in 12 minutes a week.
So take these short workouts for what they are: a good start. If you’re not getting any exercise, then start small and build on it from there. But don’t set these minimums as the finish line. Your physical fitness and your body’s capacity for movement represent a virtually infinite horizon that you can spend your lifetime exploring.
But it does take time.