What 10 minutes of physical activity can do for you

Dr. Scott Lear explains 7 benefits of putting a little movement in your day
A mother and her daughter dance in their living room
1.  Improve your brain function

Numerous studies indicate that people who are regularly active have improved memory and cognitive ability (how your brain functions), in addition to a lower risk for depression. Physical activity even increases the size of your hippocampus, and a bigger brain is a good thing. Many of these benefits occur even after just one bout of activity. A recent study in young adults found that as little as 10 minutes of physical activity resulted in improved memory and cognition.

2. Reduce your sitting time

Most of us sit too much. Sitting increases the risk for a host of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, as well as early death. Because sitting requires very little energy, our body effectively shuts down to a slow idle. Getting up and doing 10 minutes of physical activity will help to restart your body’s engine, reduce blood sugar levels and improve insulin action.

3. Make you happy

Sometimes when you’re feeling stressed or in a bad mood the last thing you want to do is get up and be active. But being active is one of the few things that can brighten you up. When we exercise our body releases hormones called endorphins. Some people refer to these as the happy hormones; they act as pain suppressors and have sedative properties. A review of studies investigating exercise and happiness found that as little as 10 minutes of physical activity can increase your happiness compared to no activity.

4. Lower your blood sugar

Nearly 1 in 10 people in Canada have diabetes. Type 2 diabetes (the more common diabetes linked to lifestyle) begins when the effect of insulin starts to wear down and blood sugar rises. Regular physical activity is associated with a lower risk for diabetes. Going for a 10-minute walk either before a meal or soon after a meal resulted in lower blood sugar compared to walking for longer at other times in the day.

5. Contribute to your daily recommended activity

It’s recommended that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week, or roughly 20-30 minutes per day. This can also be accumulated throughout the day, so it doesn’t have to be done all at once. Doing a brisk walk, jog, swim, run or anything that gets your heart pumping counts. So, when you get up and do 10 minutes of activity, that means you’re almost halfway there!

6. Give you a burst of energy

If you’re like me, by the time 2 pm hits at work, you’re feeling sluggish and having a tough time concentrating. While taking a mid-afternoon nap or drinking a cup of coffee may be your first instinct, a short burst of activity can give you a bigger pick-me-up than you’d expect. In a group of young women who were chronically tired due to lack of sleep, 10 minutes of stair walking increased mood and energy more than a 50 mg caffeine pill.

7. Reduce stress

Since physical activity reduces the risk of depression, makes us happier and gives us more energy, it should come as no surprise that being active can also reduce stress. If we’re stressed, being active can remove us from the stressful situation. The more engaging the activity, the more distracted we’ll be. On a physiological level, in addition to raising endorphins, activity can lower overall cortisol levels, which are associated with higher stress. While cortisol increases immediately after exercise, cortisol levels decrease later on. It’s even better if you are able to be active around nature,  as nature has a calming effect, reducing cortisol and blood pressure.

Ten minutes isn’t a lot of time, and the benefits make for a great return on investment. So, try and incorporate short bursts of activity into your daily routine and see how it impacts your mental and physical health. You’ll find a little movement goes a long way.

Dr. Scott Lear

Dr. Scott Lear is a leading researcher in the prevention and management of heart disease. He holds the Pfizer/Heart and Stroke Foundation Chair in Cardiovascular Prevention Research at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, and he is a professor in the faculty of health sciences and the department of biomedical physiology and kinesiology at Simon Fraser University. Dr. Lear also lives with heart disease himself. Follow his blog at drscottlear.com.