Have you ever thought of going to the gym, realized you don’t have much time, and just skipped working out completely for the day? It’s so easy to fall into the “all or nothing” mindset with workouts, which is why the latest trend of microdosing activity throughout the day is a good thing. In a nutshell, microdosing exercise, also called doing incidental physical activity, means accomplishing your exercise goals in short little bursts from morning to night. Emphasis on the word short.
“The government’s physical activity guidelines used to say you should accumulate exercise in bouts that were at least 10 minutes long, but the newest version says that those chunks of exercise can be in any duration,” says Jessica Matthews, PhD, a certified personal trainer and Assistant Professor of Kinesiology at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. “Even one minute of exercise is valuable and can make a measurable impact on your health.”
In fact, moving regularly throughout the day can be even more beneficial than sitting for 14 hours and then going to the gym for 45 minutes. You can thank the negative impact being sedentary has on your heart health for that. “Yes, structured exercise is good and can help you reach your fitness goals, but any form of physical activity will work to keep you healthy if it’s done regularly,” Matthews says. “Being active, even in little bits and pieces, can help prevent and manage chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and more. It also helps with mood, cognitive function, and weight management.”
So what does microdosing exercise look like? It’s embracing every chance you have to get your heart rate up—even if it’s just hustling up a flight of stairs, hauling in the bags of heavy groceries from your car, speeding up for a few minutes while walking your dog, raking some leaves into piles in your front yard, or carrying a heavy trash can out to the curb. Make a few of those bursts high intensity—maybe run with your dog for a block—and it’s even better.
It isn’t just aerobic activities like walking that can be microdosed; so can weight training. “The guidelines say you should do 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise a week, but also two days a week of muscle strengthening activities,” says Matthews. “So squeeze in short sets of squats or push-ups whenever you have a moment. The long and short of it is that you can meet—and exceed—the guidelines through various creative ways if you just incorporate more activity throughout the day. It can all be accumulated.”
There is one very important thing to remember, though. For activity to count towards the 150 minutes a week, it needs to be moderate intensity. “A stroll to the bathroom doesn’t count,” says Matthews. Her method of gauging whether or not you’re moving at an intense enough effort: Can you still have a conversation, but would need to pause every now and then to catch your breath? “That’s how you can tell if you’re getting your heart rate up enough,” she says. “You can also use your Fitbit device to get a sense of how much you’re moving and when you’ve spent too much time sitting.”
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.