I know — some days it seems like it's asking the impossible to get a workout in — even a half hour's worth. But the benefits of cumulative exercise are well documented, meaning that if you do three 10-minute sessions (say, one before you shower in the morning, one on your lunch break and one while you are watching TV at night) you are less likely to have several issues that presage significant health issues later on, like metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and high waist circumference.
(Though longer-bout exercisers in an Oregon State University study did weigh less than those who did intermittent exercise — even the same amount — so long walks, runs, bike rides and more are still worth doing.)
Nevertheless, it's worth scheduling in these mini-movement breaks — both for the health benefits, and because people who exercise (on whatever kind of schedule) sleep better, have a greater sense of life satisfaction and well-being, and are more able to focus on the task at hand.
Need motivation to ramp it up a notch? An exercise study from researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, found that scattering six 10-second bursts of high-intensity exercise in 10 minutes of interval training may have the same benefits as 45 minutes of moderately intense exercise. So if you're just walking or dancing, for example, every few minutes try turning it up to top speed. The effort may give you some serious benefits.
And if that's not motivation enough to get moving, a new study from the American Heart Association finds that getting the recommended amount of exercise can cut your health care costs by as much as $2,500 a year.
Here's how to get your exercise, 10 minutes at a time.
Walk your dog, or yourself. If you usually just let your dog out several times a day, make one of them a real walk with your pooch. (Your dog will love you for it too). If you don't have a dog, commit to taking a daily walk at a certain time (just after you wake up, after dinner, on your lunch break or before bed — as long as you don't have trouble sleeping). Commit to doing it 7 days in a row, rain or shine, and you will have created a habit that you'll find you miss on the days you don't do it. And if you're anything like me, you'll find that your 10-minute commitment turns into 20 or 30 minutes some days. Walking is free, low-impact and easy, so set your alarm and just do it.
Pace while talking on the phone. I feel a compulsion to walk while I'm talking. When I'm catching up with friends I can end up walking a couple of miles over the course of an hour-long conversation. But even if you don't go "out for a walk" you can still move while chatting. Wander around the house, walk up and down the stairs, or just pace back-and-forth in the biggest room of the house. I do this while on personal and business calls. Need to take notes while you chat? Use a hands-free device and walk with a notepad.
Strap on your sneakers and run. If you usually run, it's easy to break into a jog anwhere, anytime, as long as you are wearing decent shoes. If you jog along for 10 minutes or so, you're unlikely to get too sweaty or mess up your hair (unless, I suppose, you have some crazy-elaborate 'do!) running for that short amount of time, so you can easily return to work or whatever you were doing.
Walk while reading. Obviously, you'll need to be careful while doing this, but if you need to read student papers, journal articles or research for your work, there's no reason you can't walk while doing it. It sounds slightly crazy, but it's common practice among professors (and other people) the world over. Be sure to choose a route that's likely to be quiet, and a path that isn't likely to be slippery, muddy or otherwise filled with detritus, and go. It takes a bit of practice, but I've read whole books while taking walks — you'll go slower than you normally might, of course, but once you get used to it, it's a great way to get some movement in while getting work done. I even keep a pen with me to take notes while I walk and, no, I've never fallen on my face! (Though I wouldn't do this if it were icy out.)
Throw a solo dance party. Pick three songs that just always get you going; with most songs at between 3-4 minutes, three of them is an ideal length. And just move to them, in any way you want. I like to choose one slower song to start, then do two upbeat songs to follow. You can do this in your own living room or kitchen, or put your headphones on and head outside — who cares if your neighbor sees you? What are they going to say "I saw Sue dancing in her own backyard yesterday"?
Work your abs. Ten minutes is about as long as you can work one body part, so it's perfect for fitting into an exercise routine of mini-movements. And the Internet abounds with routines if you don't already know enough exercises to fill 10 minutes. Here's one from Men's Fitness. Want more? Just Google "10 minute abs."
Do some chores already. Ten minutes of raking leaves (do that every day for a week and save some bucks on yard maintenance...or keep yourself from doing 90 minutes in one day and getting crazy-sore); shovelling snow; trimming trees/bushes and cleaning up after; moving stuff around the house (laundry, toys, just putting stuff away); or stripping and remaking a couple beds all counts towards 10 minutes of movement. (And you can check stuff off your "To Do" list!)
Do some yoga. Ten minutes of sun salutations will get your heart rate up and get you stretched out. Yoga takes very little space to do, and you don't need any special equipment. This is especially great if you are working at a desk, as muscles get tight, and even if you are in an office, people will think you are healthy, not weird, if you take 10 to stretch and move. You will feel much more energized and (from my experience) be able to focus better when you take a yoga break mid-afternoon, instead of heading to the vending or coffee machine. Here's a great video to get you motivated (and naturally, there are plenty more online).
Dust off that bike. Leave your bike somewhere you can jump on it anytime. Figure out a route that's 5 minutes long, then time yourself going that far — then try to beat that time on your way back. (Plus once you have your bike out, you'll be more likely to use it for an errand, or just take a ride when you have more than 10 minutes).
Editor's note: This story was published in September 2014 and has been updated with new information.