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1-Minute Workouts to Make You Stronger

Try these 5 short workouts to increase fitness and reduce risk of heart disease and cancer


spinner image one legged balance exercise holding on to a chair for support
Eli Meir Kaplan

Though you know you need to exercise, you may feel like you don’t have the resolve, interest or time to get physically fit. You aren’t alone. Almost half of those 50 and older feel the same way, according to an AARP survey.

But building muscle and getting the physical activity that health experts say all adults need is easier than you may have thought. You can break movement into short bursts that health experts call exercise snacks, and still get many of the benefits of exercising and lifting weights, without leaving your home or buying gym equipment.

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“When experts say you should be getting 150 minutes of exercise a week and strength training two times per week, I think that can [sound] scary,” says Katie Wadland, a board certified geriatric clinical specialist and owner of Healthy Aging Physical Therapy based in Wakefield, Mass. “So, break it down.”

A few minutes, real results

The benefit of exercise snacks has emerged from years of research on short, intense exercises. In 2022, researchers in the United Kingdom published one of the largest studies to date in the journal Nature Medicine on middle-aged adults, showing how brief bouts of vigorous exercise can improve cardiovascular health.

The study concluded that people between the ages of 40 and 69 who engaged in spurts of movement for at least one to two minutes, three times a day, significantly reduced the risk of death from heart disease or cancer, compared with those who weren’t physically active at all.

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Another recent study looked at how short, intensive exercise snacks might help to offset muscle loss during aging. Oliver Perkin, a University of Bath postdoctoral researcher in exercise physiology, led the study of healthy but nonexercising adults and the impact of getting up and down from a chair for at least one minute, twice a day, over four weeks. 

“We saw some pretty encouraging results in terms of increase in muscle size and strength in older adults,” he says of study participants. “We think the weight of the body on the person’s legs was enough to build strength.”

Building muscle

With aging, the body’s processing of nutrients begins to slow, making it harder to build muscle tissue. On average, adults lose about 30 percent of their muscle power between the ages of 50 and 70. Inactivity can hasten that muscle loss. Scientists say the brief bouts of activity encourage muscle fibers to grow and improves the efficiency of how muscles use amino acids needed to repair and restore muscle mass.

“We think, over time, activity snacks could delay the loss of muscle mass that occurs with aging,” says Daniel Moore, associate professor of muscle physiology at the University of Toronto, who is currently leading a study on activity snacks and older adults.

Simple ways to get moving

To get started, Wadland suggests tying an exercise snack to a daily habit in certain rooms, such as doing a plank in the kitchen while waiting for the coffee to brew or doing a one-legged balancing move while brushing your teeth in the bathroom.

You can even place sticky notes in each room to remind you to do the movement. Another strategy is to set a timer to do each snack at a certain time, like 9 am, noon and 5 pm.

“Linking it to something you are already doing can be a great way to adapt these exercise snacks to your day,” she said.

There are multiple options for exercise snacks, so Wadland says to pick movements that you like the most.

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Here are five examples of exercise snacks that you can do for one minute each. Each includes a way to increase the challenge to your body’s muscles. Please check with your doctor first before doing any new exercise.

Five One-Minute Workouts

Archie Israel, a trainer and medical exercise specialist in the Washington, DC, area who works with clients age 50 and over, helped design this workout and models the exercises below. He recommends starting with just a few reps and adding over time to create a daily habit.

spinner image motion graphic of man standing directly in front of a chair he sits down and stands up again without using his hands
Eli Meir Kaplan

1. Chair sit to stand

Make sure you are sitting on a sturdy chair that won’t move when you do. Shift your body to the edge of the chair, legs shoulder-width apart. Lean your weight a bit towards the balls of your feet and come to standing, back straight, knees above the feet, weight on the whole foot and then sit back down. Repeat.

spinner image motion graphic of man standing directly in front of a chair he almost sits down but then stands up again without sitting all the way and without using his hands
Eli Meir Kaplan

Extra credit: Begin standing in front of the chair, and squat as you if you were going to sit in it. Just before you sit, stand back up.

spinner image motion graphic of man doing a plank exercise on a countertop
Eli Meir Kaplan

2. Counter Plank

While standing, position yourself a few feet from the counter. Keep your feet a few inches apart. Put palms on counter, about shoulder-width apart from one another. Allow the body to lean toward the edge of the counter, drawing your shoulder blades slightly toward one another and hold.

spinner image motion graphic of man doing a plank exercise on a countertop he stands about two feet from the counter bends forward and puts his hands on it then leans forward then he walks his feet backwards a step so he is in an elevated plank or pushup position

Extra credit: Walk your feet away from the counter, or perform the plank on the floor.

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spinner image motion graphic of archie israel standing behind a chair and holding on to the back he lifts up onto his toes and back down
Eli Meir Kaplan

3. Heel to toe lifts

Stand behind a chair and hold on to it for support. Raise your heels off the floor until you are standing on the balls of your feet. Slowly lower your heels back to the floor. Repeat.

spinner image motion graphic of archie israel standing he lifts up onto his toes and back down and brings his arms up at the same time
Eli Meir Kaplan

Extra credit: Take hands off the chair. As you lift your heels, lift your arms overhead and alongside your ears. Slowly lower arms and heels back to the floor. Repeat.

spinner image motion graphic of archie israel seated in a chair and marching his feet and moving his arms
Eli Meir Kaplan

4. Marches

Slide forward in a chair with your back straight. And “run” in place, lifting one knee and then the other as fast as you can.

spinner image motion graphic of archie israel marching while holding on to the back of a chair
Eli Meir Kaplan

Extra credit: Stand behind the back of the chair and place your hands on the chair for support. Lifting one knee as high as you can, balance on your opposite leg. Repeat on the other side and then march as fast as you can in place.

spinner image motion graphic of archie israel doing a one legged balance while holding on to the back of a chair
Eli Meir Kaplan

5. One-legged balance

Stand behind the back of a sturdy, unmoving chair, or the edge of a countertop in the kitchen. Place hands on top of the chair or the counter. Place your weight slightly more on one leg (right or left, it doesn’t matter which you start with) and lift the heel of the opposite leg and hold for a minute. Repeat on other leg.

spinner image motion graphic of archie israel doing a one legged balance
Eli Meir Kaplan

Extra credit: If you feel steady on the standing leg, begin to lift the whole foot of the opposite leg, then work your way toward balancing without the support of one hand and then without either hand and hold for a minute. Repeat on other leg.

Building Up Over Time

Researchers say the key to gaining the most benefit from exercise snacks is to do them consistently and throughout your week. Over time, the movement snacks will add up. If you do them enough times, you can reach the recommended health guidelines for physical activity. Here’s one way:

5 snack workouts X 1 minute each (1-minute rest time between) X 7 = 35 minutes

The more often you do them, the more you’ll gain in physical fitness.

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