At the beginning of each new year, millions of people optimistically set fitness goals for themselves. Unfortunately, usually within a matter of weeks, obligations and busy-ness typically increase while motivation and enthusiasm decrease at an equally fast rate. Feeling that life is too busy while also lacking motivation is a combination that has proven to derail even the best of intentions.
A key barrier to being physically active is an all-or-nothing mindset. Unless there is time for a full workout, why bother to start it at all? What is the point of eating carrots for dinner if I ate two cupcakes at work today? It’s Friday and I didn’t get one workout in this week—why bother doing one now? I have forgotten to drink water all day—well, I might as well have another soda. This type of thinking subconsciously drives disengagement in positive behaviors.
Although it doesn’t work with everything, the idea of “something is better than nothing” nicely applies to healthy behaviors. In other words, it is better to do something good—however small or seemingly insignificant—for your health and well-being than nothing at all.
Not convinced? Consider, for example, that a five-minute exercise interval performed once an hour may improve glucose and insulin levels in obese individuals better than one single longer session (Holmstrup et al., 2014). Another study found that people who rode 10 minutes on a stationary bike had a sharper cognitive response to specific tests compared to individuals who read a magazine for the same amount of time (Samani and Heath, 2018). And immune function may be significantly enhanced with a 20-minute bout of exercise (Dimitrov, Huelton and Hong., 2017). As you can see from this small sample, the research confirming that something (in this case, a small amount of exercise) is better than nothing is encouraging.
Specifically, some movement is better than none. Standing is better than sitting. Walking or moving around is better than standing still. The same is true for other health behaviors that often feel challenging for some people. For example, drinking some water each day is better than drinking none. Eating some fruits and vegetables is better than eating none. Getting some sleep is better than getting none.
Here are some practical ideas for adding small doses of physical activity and movement into your daily life:
Walk around your house while you are brushing your teeth.
Every time the phone rings, go for a walk or do some wall-sits.
Stand up once every 30 minutes and breathe deeply for 2 minutes while doing standing squats.
Dance your way through household chores (it’s way more fun!).
Convert your work station into a standing/active station.
Make family time an active time.
Anytime you have to wait for something, do squats or calf raises.
Every time you have to use the restroom, do five push-ups (after might be best!).
Perform standing lunges while fueling up your car.
Go for a brisk 10-minute walk after dinner.
Adopting a few small healthy habits has the potential to progress into more healthy patterns over time and gives you the opportunity to experience what reaching your goal might feel like. Doing something rather than nothing also provides a sense of accomplishment, which initiates positive self-talk and self-empowerment.
Several “somethings” performed throughout the day will start to become “a lot” of things over time—and you may not even feel as though these things are taking much extra time. In fact, if you start integrating healthy behavioral patterns into your daily life, lack of time will likely cease to be an issue altogether.
Dimitrov, S., Hulteng, E. and Hong, S. (2017). Inflammation and exercise: Inhibition of monocytic intrhealthsitellular TNF production by acute exercise via b2-adrenergic activation. Brain, Behavior and Immunity, 61, 60-68.
Holmstrup, M. et al. (2014). Multiple short bouts of exercise over 12-h period reduce glucose excursions more than an energy-matched single bout of exercise. Metabolism, 63, 4, 510-519.
Samani, A. and Heath, M. (2018). Executive-related oculomotor control is improved following a 10-min. single-bout of aerobic exercise: Evidence from the antisaccade task. Neuropsychologia, 108, 73-81.