What if you want to be healthy, but exercise is not your pastime of predilection? There are other things you’d do with your time, money, and energy. You often find yourself reflecting: do I need to spend 2 hours in the gym every day? Do I have to spend fortunes on personal training? Do I have to hit the entire rainbow of heart zone for the exercise to be effective? The answer to all these is no.
“To Doubt Everything, or, to Believe Everything, Are Two Equally Convenient Solutions; Both Dispense With the Necessity of Reflection.“
Minimum Effective Dose of Exercise
“To boil water, the minimum effective dose is 100°C at standard air pressure. Boiled is boiled. Higher temperatures will not make it more boiled.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the minimum weekly amount of exercise for optimal health in adults is 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity .
But let’s get into the fine print so that you can put this into action.
What Are Moderate Exercise and Vigorous Exercise?
What Are Examples of Moderate and Vigorous Activities?
- Light cycling
- Leisure sports (e.g., snowshoeing, golfing, dancing, etc.)
- Strength training
- Jump rope
- High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
Loading Factor: Duration
Long story short: it takes little to trigger hormonal responses to exercise, be it the well-known mighty testosterone or the equally potent yet less considered IGFs (Insulin Growth Factors).
What Else Does the WHO Suggest?
- Enhanced cognition levels through BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor)
- Improved mood and elevated energy levels
- Lower rates of all-cause mortality
- Stronger bones and muscles
- Healthy body composition and weight management
- Decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (did you know that sitting for too long will raise your blood sugar levels without any food even entering your mouth—enter standing desks)
And since there is no one single absolute right way to hit your time and intensity targets, below is a customizable plan you can use to ensure you get the greatest benefit from the smallest amount of exercise.
The Minimal Exercise Protocol
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—”said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get somewhere,”Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
—Alice in Wonderland
Step 1: Set Your Goal
- Sprinkle little movement breaks throughout your day. Do three 10-minute sessions of moderate activity five days a week to hit the 150-minute target. This includes anything from light cycling to little walks.
- Into kettlebells? Do Marco’s Kettlebell Minimalism coupled with a few walks outside.
- Use your lunch break efficiently. Take advantage of your breaks to get short 15-minute vigorous workouts like jumping rope or running.
- Do bigger workouts less often. If shorter workouts aren’t your cup of tea, three 50-minute moderate workouts or three 25 vigorous workouts will get you to your goals. Yoga or CrossFit classes are great for this.
Step 2: Choose Your Activity
The simpler, the better. Don’t overcomplicate this part. What you do matters less than the intensity and duration. Pick an activity with a low friction point that is enjoyable. From there, keep focusing on logging your minutes.
Step 3: Block Time
Although this may seem unnecessary, many well-intentioned exercise aficionados often fail to turn good intentions into action because of neglecting this step.
This should be simple enough. It is so simple you may be thinking if there’s anything else you could add. What else could you add to get even more out of your minimalist exercise program.
The Overachieving Minimalist Upgrades
- Exercise outside at sunrise: vitamin D supports immune health, and morning light exposure can improve your sleep by optimizing your circadian rhythm. Andrew Huberman also recently published research showing the benefits of watching sunrises and sunsets on mood. This is obvious for most people. Rising with the sun and going to bed early lifts spirits.
- Workout in a fasted state after drinking your coffee. Both fasted exercise and caffeine enhance fat burning, which can help you reach your body composition goals faster .
- Exercise with a friend. People with strong social bonds are healthier and live longer irrespective of their exercise habits. Body strength directly correlates with health, and strength of relationships directly correlates with life satisfaction. So, working out while foisting a friendship is arguably one of the healthiest two-for-one moves you can make .
Cold immersion has been shown to replicate the benefits of cardiovascular activity. Immersing yourself in a cold bath (cold enough for your body to be shivering after 5 minutes) for 20 minutes yields the same cardiovascular and mental benefits as 60 minutes of moderate exercise. There’s a hard to ignore three-for-one multiplicator there.
- Bull, Fiona C Et Al. “World Health Organization 2020 Guidelines On Physical Activity And Sedentary Behaviour.” British Journal Of Sports Medicine Vol. 54,24 (2020): 1451-1462.
- “Measuring Physical Activity Intensity.” Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, 17 Sept. 2020.
- Jakicic, John M Et Al. “Association Between Bout Duration Of Physical Activity And Health: Systematic Review.” Medicine And Science In Sports And Exercise Vol. 51,6 (2019): 1213-1219.
- Vieira, Alexandra Ferreira Et Al. “Effects Of Aerobic Exercise Performed In Fasted V. Fed State On Fat And Carbohydrate Metabolism In Adults: A Systematic Review And Meta-analysis.” The British Journal Of Nutrition Vol. 116,7 (2016): 1153-1164.
- Kurobe, Kazumichi Et Al. “Combined Effect Of Coffee Ingestion And Repeated Bouts Of Low-intensity Exercise On Fat Oxidation.” Clinical Physiology And Functional Imaging Vol. 37,2 (2017): 148-154.
- Umberson, Debra, And Jennifer Karas Montez. “Social Relationships And Health: A Flashpoint For Health Policy.” Journal Of Health And Social Behavior Vol. 51 Suppl,suppl (2010): S54-66.