How much exercise do we need? Just a bite

Have you ever watched your kid gallop down the street, bop to music, wave both arms wildly, or randomly run around in circles … and wondered if that’s the amount of movement you’re supposed to be getting in a day? Nah–there’s no way you can keep up with that craziness. But sitting for large swaths of the day, like many of us do, is definitely too little.

So how much movement do we need? An increasing number of studies on exercise and on sitting point us in a compelling direction.

One looked at people on the cusp of diabetes. Which did a better job controlling their blood sugar: one 30-minute walk? Or a 12-minute walk–alternating each minute between fast-as-you-can and slow–done three times a day? Another study asked a similar question about controlling blood pressure among people with symptoms of hypertension.

Winner: the shorter walk, done throughout the day, with bursts of intensity.

A “lethal activity” is what Mayo Clinic researcher James Levine calls excessive sitting. One study found that those who sit more than four hours a day are at a 50% higher risk of chronic disease compared with those who sit less than four hours a day. And a recent study of rats showed that being sedentary rewires the brain, changing the shape and function of neurons that control blood pressure.

What these studies point to is not the hard-core gym workout three times a week (although that has its benefits, too). It’s simpler:

We just need to move–as our kids instinctively do–many times a day. “Exercise snacks,” as one researcher put it.

Which is why I like the news headlines about adding years to your life by running 5 minutes a day (even though the participants in the study actually ran “less than 51 minutes a week” in any combination of times … and even though it doesn’t have to be running) or the 7-minute workout (even though you’re supposed to do it two or three times).

These headlines push us to move. After all, it’s just for a few minutes. Who can’t fit in a 5-minute run? And thank goodness, because 5 or 7 minutes is sometimes all we have the mental space for. It’s a useful psychological trick to get us going, like the one in my Huffington Post story “How to Trick Yourself Into Exercising.”

Can you lose baby weight with exercise snacks? Moms have. But even better is that we get our brains working, too. I’m talking about problem-solving skill, abstract-thinking ability, long-term memory, reasoning, and attention–plus reducing anxiety, depression, and stress. Yes, please.

Growing up, my mom used to have us girls write down New Year’s resolutions in three categories: body, mind, and soul. Last year, for my body, I wanted to exercise three times a week. Sounds like this year I should add “Get moving three times a day.”

Need baby-friendly ideas for exercise? I give a bunch in Zero to Five: Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science. Need inspiration? Check out this photo of my friend Laura!

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Ice skating with baby

Copyright Betty Udesen / Pear Press
Written by

Tracy Cutchlow

Tracy is the author of the international bestseller Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science, a public speaker, and a creator of places to speak and be heard. Sign up for her newsletter here.

2 thoughts on “How much exercise do we need? Just a bite

  1. Tracy,
    LOVE your book ZERO to FIVE and love this.
    When it’s raining I often take my daughter (2 year old) to a big warehouse store that’s not crowded and let her run the aisles. We stay out of everyone’s way and my daughter has a blast getting a ton of exercise! : )

    1. Way to get creative, Jen! Kids really don’t need much to get them going!

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