How to Get the Health Benefits of Working Out – in Only Minutes a Day

At 54, I’m in the best shape of my life. I love the idea that I can keep up with wrestlers half my age, but what I like best is that I no longer suffer from back pain, shoulder strain, neck stiffness, joint soreness, and ulcers.

Physically speaking, I have knocked off 30 years of aging by a combination of diet, yoga, Pilates, weight lifting, and Jiu Jitsu. A typical day includes:

  • Early morning: 30 minutes of yoga or Pilates
  • Midday: 30 minutes of weight lifting
  • 5:30: an hour of wrestling
  • After dinner: an hour of treadmill

That’s three hours a day – probably more time than most busy people can afford. But here’s the thing: Dr Sears tells me I don’t have to spend that much time. In fact, if I do what he suggests, I can get all the benefits I’m getting now in just minutes a day.

To quote the doctor himself:

“The quality and intensity of the exercise you do is more important than the quantity.

“To illustrate how conventional medicine confuses this issue, consider a recent Harvard School of Public Health study. They report that those who worked out for less than 3 1/2 hours per week increased their risk of early death by 55%. If they were also obese and sedentary, they increased their risk 142%.

“This is a sobering study, clearly pointing out that a lack of exercise can have deadly consequences regardless of whether you’re thin or overweight, but it doesn’t address how the intensity and duration of exercise affects the benefits. Yet researchers reported this as if they have proven a minimum time needed to exercise per week.

“What happens when you set up a study to address this issue?

“Researchers at Laval University in Quebec divided men into two groups: long-duration and short-interval exercisers. They had the long-duration group cycle up to 45 minutes without interruption. The short-interval group cycled in bursts of only 15-90 seconds, while resting in between.

“The long-duration group burned twice as many calories, so you would assume they would burn more fat. However, when the researchers recorded their body composition measurements, the interval group showed that they lost more fat. In fact, the interval group lost nine times more fat than the endurance group for every calorie burned.”

Dr Sears has tested this concept on hundreds of his patients at the Center for Health and Wellness and, indeed, most achieved lower body fat by exercising in shorter bursts of higher intensity.

In his excellent book “The Doctor’s Heart Cure”, he introduced his unique PACE (Progressively Accelerating Cardiopulmonary Exertion) program for maximum health and fitness – which is partially based on these findings:

  • Start with a 2-minute warm-up at a gentle pace.
  • Accelerate to a moderate pace (an intensity of 5 on a 10-point scale) for one minute.
  • Recover for one minute by working at an easy pace (an intensity level of 3 on a 10-point scale.)
  • Repeat this alternating cycle of high- and low-intensity exercise several more times.
  • Gradually increase your intensity during the high-intensity portions of the workout to an intensity of 6, then 7, then 8.
  • Throughout the workout, remind yourself to breathe deeply. Focus on powerfully exhaling all of your air. As you inhale, feel your body expanding the oxygen-delivery capacity of your heart and lungs.

Our in-house health expert, Jon Herring, did a series about exercise a few weeks ago in ETR. You may want to go back and re-read his Health briefs.

One of the things Jon wrote that makes a lot of sense to me: “When you accomplish the same amount of work in increasingly shorter periods of time, you will automatically dial up your intensity. At the same time, you’ll be decreasing the amount of time you spend exercising.”

If I could reduce my daily workout by an hour a day, I’d have more than 150 extra hours per year to invest in something I care about. At two hours a day, my saved time would amount to about 300 hours (which is more than a month of eight-hour days). You can accomplish a lot in that amount of time. For example, you could:

  • Write a full-length screenplay.
  • Become a passably good speaker of French.
  • Paint six landscapes or 36 abstract/expressionist pieces.
  • Become a Blue Belt in Jiu Jitsu or Tai Kwan Do.
  • Start a small business.
  • Make a good friend.
  • Spend five weeks in the wilderness… doing nothing.

All that and still be in the best shape of your life!

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]

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  • Hi Michael,

    I’m curious – this post is more than 5 years old now. Have you cut your exercise time and found this works?

    Joe Paz
    The Memory Improvement Man