Small workouts can help meet fitness goals

By Barbara Broggelwirth MS, RDN, CDN

Ever had a day when you planned on a 45-minute workout and then were derailed by, uh, life? Welcome to being human. So many of us chalk up that inability to do our “perfect” fitness routine to a failure for the day, and then we do nothing at all. But what if I told you that a small amount of activity is better than no activity at all?

According to the American Heart Association, adults should do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, or 75 to 150 of vigorous-intensity activity per week. A study at the University of Utah found that only about five percent of Americans reach those recommended levels. I don’t share that to shame us. It is likely due to societal demands which necessitate long workdays, commuting time, and for some of us, add a child or elder care on top of that. I get it.

The good news is that study after study confirms that small workouts (10 minutes or less) can be effective in helping you meet your fitness goals. One study from the Southern Illinois University concluded that 11 minutes of strength training performed three times weekly increased resting metabolic rate, which represents the calories we burn at rest. Another study reported intense 30-second intervals of exercise for only 2.5 minutes helped participants burn an extra 200 calories throughout the rest of their day. Small efforts can add up. Some of the benefits of short workouts include improved blood pressure readings, heart health, bone density, and decreased risk of type II diabetes.

One of my favorite fitness tips is to increase your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (N.E.A.T.) This can make up 10-40 percent of our total calorie burn. It includes walking, fidgeting, standing, and all other activities of daily living such as household chores, errands, etc.  So how do we increase our NEAT? Take the stairs instead of the elevator—Park further from your destination. Stand instead of sitting. Walk on a lunch break or set a timer to get up and walk around after every hour of sitting.

Another great option if you are short on time is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). The benefits include increasing your metabolic rate for hours after, decreased fasting insulin levels, and increases insulin sensitivity. Don’t be put off by the word intensity because it can be based upon your personal baseline. The best part is that you can do it walking on your lunch break. For example, if you have 25 minutes try this:

Warm up for five minutes

Walk at a fast pace for 30 seconds

Walk at a resting pace for one minute

Repeat 10 times

Cool down for five minutes


If you only have seven minutes to spare, see below for a link to a seven-minute workout utilizing the HIIT principle. The instructor in this video is Chris Jordan, Director of Exercise Physiology at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute.

In summary, when it comes to physical activity, something is always better than nothing.



Klika, B. (n.d.). High-intensity circuit training using body weight: Maximum results with minimal investment: ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal. LWW. Retrieved July 8, 2022, from

Fitness & Wellness News. (2017, February 9). Some exercise is better than none. Fitness & Wellness News. Retrieved July 8, 2022, from

Barbara Broggelwirth MS, RDN, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who works with Bariatric and Medical Weight Management patients to help them achieve their health and weight loss goals