Can you get fit in just 7 minutes a day?

by / Sunday, 24 May 2015 / Published in Movement Health

Is it possible to get many the benefits of a longer exercise session in seven minutes? And if yes, should you do so?

It may sound unbelievable, but science says you can. An article published back in 2013 in the New York Times, “Well” blog, says:

Work by scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and other institutions shows, for instance, that even a few minutes of training at an intensity approaching your maximum capacity produces molecular changes within muscles comparable to those of several hours of running or bike riding.

Researchers have been looking into how much exercise a human actually needs to do to get benefit. The idea is that if you can get fit in 7 minutes a day, then no one will be able to say that they don’t have time to exercise. This should solve the world’s obesity problems. I don’t think this has happened yet and I want to explore some drawbacks to the “shortest possible time” mentality.

First off, by saying, “Oh, now I only need to exercise 7 minutes a day to keep fit” (not necessarily healthy by the way), is not really addressing the problem that most of us spend too much time being sedentary. Or another way of putting it,  “Now that I can exercise for 7 minutes, I can save 23 minutes from my normal lunch hour walk/jog so I can spend that extra time reading Facebook or watching House of Cards.” By using the 7 minute approach, movement is relegated to a short inconvenience, much like brushing your teeth or taking a vitamin because you don’t have time to eat a real meal.

Businessman running late for 7 Minute Workout.

Businessman running late for 7 Minute Workout.

Another thing not mentioned in the article is the need to warm up before such a workout. In order to work at the required intensity, most, except the young and very healthy, would need to do some kind of preparation to be able to move at that intensity.

Furthermore, the idea ignores that fact that our thinking, sensing and feeling are tied into our movement. Relying on the 7 minute workout would be doing the same thing day in day out. Movements would become stale and boring. To move is to live and we need a variety of movements, nay, we need a plethora of movements. What about sense of balance and movement efficiency just to name a few things that could be ignored? If you blast through a 7 minute routine, chances are that you’re trying to work as hard as you can to get the benefits, so in essence, you’re ingraining inefficiency and possible injury.

Most people, especially if they’re unhealthy, are not ready to work at such high intensity. If you’ve been a long time coach potato and suddenly decide to use the 7 minute plan to get back in shape, you’re most likely going to injure yourself.

And worse, it implies that movement is something to be gotten out of the way and not to be enjoyed or even a part of your social life (team sports or a group walk for example). Heck, why don’t we say that if you take bigger bites, chew your food faster and gulp down bigger pieces of food, you can get down more calories more quickly so you spend less time eating? And if we could just learn to talk faster, we’d have more time for Twitter as well!

Eating bigger chunks of food will also save time!

Eating bigger chunks of food will also save time!

There may be some molecular changes to muscle using the 7 minute workout but it’s missing out on life. If you do go for an hour long walk/run, you see, smell, hear and feel the world around you. You are stimulated and more awake. You’ve had a multisensory experience. Maybe you heard your breathing and felt your muscles getting tired towards the end.Maybe you solved a problem from your work. If you were out playing a sport or interacting with others, you reacted, responded and interacted. You became richer from those experiences. Not so with the 7 minute workout.

This is not to say that there isn’t any use for the 7MW. To be sure, there may be a few cases in which it’s useful. If you’re already fit and have a really busy day, then maybe you can use the 7MW to get your blood moving and ease your guilty conscience as an exception. If you already participate in some form of lower intensity movement but feel that you’d like to get your heart rate up then go ahead. Actually, for most people, several 7 minute movement breaks throughout the day would be much better than trying to cram all of their missed movements into a gym session. But they need to be done mindfully and carefully to get the full benefits.

Moving is part of being human and that is how we can express our humanness and humanity. As Dr. Moshé Feldenkrais said:

“Movement is life. Life is a process. Improve the quality of the process and you improve the quality of life itself.”

So let us not reduce our lives to 7 minutes of flailing around but rather improve our lives, in the process.


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