There are a lot of things you can do in 22 minutes. You could watch an episode of Frasier or The Simpsons. That time might be better spent listening to “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush four times through. You could clean your bathroom, perhaps? Or you could just take a power nap.
Your precious time could be put to better use exercising, though, since a new study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine has found that doing just 22 minutes of exercise per day can offset the negative health effects of sitting down at a desk all day. And if you have an office job: you may want to look away now, because studies have linked being inactive with type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Some experts say that people who sit for long periods have a 147 per cent higher risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. It is also thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat.
Humans are built to stand upright, our heart, muscles and cardiovascular system all work more effectively that way and this latest study backs up the UK chief medical officers’ recommendation that people should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of low-intensity exercise per week.
In theory, it should be easy: 22 minutes certainly seems more doable than committing to an hour-long spin class or a 60-minute session of reformer pilates. But can 22 minutes really give the results you want? Depending on whether it’s strength-building, weight loss or improving your cardiovascular fitness that you’re looking for, the answer is yes, as long as you maintain a focused and consistent workout. To give you a headstart we have spoken to fitness experts and personal trainers for their six top exercises that will deliver the maximum results in a short time…
High-intensity interval training (HIIT):
This is a routine that does what it says on the tin, and the benefits from it are not dependent on your fitness level or ability. The technique is typically made up of short bursts of high-intensity aerobic exercise of maximum effort every 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds rest on a repeat cycle.
Nicola Mercer, a health coach and qualified personal trainer specialising in women’s health, says that HIIT ticks almost all of the boxes when trying to achieve an effective workout in a short space of time. “In just 22 minutes, you can complete a full HIIT workout, which boosts your metabolism, burns calories, and improves both cardiovascular and muscular fitness,” explains Mercer. Aerobic exercise will increase the heart rate to about 70 to 80 per cent of your maximum heart rate, and researchers have found that HIIT burns 25 to 30 per cent more calories compared to a longer steady-state exercise session.
HIIT is made up of short bursts of high-intensity aerobic exercise every 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds of rest on a repeat cycle
“The point of HIIT is to work at whatever is your own maximum intensity for 30 seconds, and then rest for 30 to 60 seconds and go again,” Mercer says. “There are lots of free HIIT workouts available on YouTube – you don’t have to have any special equipment, meaning you can do the workouts for no cost at home, in a hotel room, or even outdoors!”
Trampolining is not just for children and it can be especially beneficial for women as it works out pelvic floor muscles. Just 22 minutes of jumping can unlock similar health benefits to jogging or running and a short routine can engage up to 400 muscles in the body, according to Kimberlee Perry, CEO of international fitness studios Bouncefitbody. The act of bending your knees, and bouncing on the balls of your feet while leaning slightly forward means that your abdominal muscles are engaged, too, giving your core a good workout.
‘Mini-trampolining takes you back to the nostalgia of childhood play,’ says Kimberlee Perry, CEO of international fitness studios Bouncefitbody, “Not only does trampolining bolster your pelvic floor, but it also strengthens muscles and bones, making it ideal for those with joint issues,” says Perry. “Plus, it’s a detox powerhouse that drains the lymphatic system, improves balance and increases oxygen levels.”
Perry says that you should feel like you’re enjoying yourself while exercising; it doesn’t have to be a demoralising or unenjoyable experience. “Jumping on a trampoline boosts your wellbeing,” explains Perry. “It’s also more than just a workout and takes you back to the nostalgia of childhood play. So, when you bounce, it’s not just about getting fit but finding a fun and carefree way to exercise.”
You don’t have to be clad in Lycra or own an expensive £3,000 VanMoof bike to get the full benefit from cycling, says chartered physiotherapist and pilates teacher Esther Fox. “You even use an exercise bike at home in front of the TV. Cycling is a really great way of getting your cardiovascular system working, getting your joints moving and your muscles moving, but without that load bearing on irritable joints, like in running.”
While cycling is a relatively low-impact aerobic exercise if you’re travelling on flat and quiet roads, there are opportunities for varying intensity – and that’s when you will really notice the health benefits. According to a five-year study by the University of Glasgow, just using your bike on an “active commute” could cut your risk of developing cancer and heart disease by almost half.
And if you don’t sound convinced yet, the downwards motion of pedalling targets your largest muscle, your glutes and in just 20 minutes of high-intensity cycling, it’s estimated that you could burn approximately 140 calories.
If you’ve ever had a personal training session, you’ll know that PTs rave about the benefits of “compound exercises” – aka using more than one muscle group at one time. Squats, deadlifts, lunges, push-ups and pull-ups are all examples of compound moves.
Claire Jones, a sustainable weight loss coach and qualified personal trainer, says that compound moves are among her failsafe workout techniques because you can get the benefits of a full-body workout in a short amount of time.
“Doing a circuit of compound moves, such as one minute of activity followed by one minute of rest for 22 minutes has benefits relating to strength-building and cardiovascular fitness,” Jones explains. Compound exercises contribute to burning fat, muscle building, joint strengthening and better posture.
The world is your gym: compound exercises are another workout you can do just about anywhere.
Squats, for example, can also improve flexibility. The exercise – which involves keeping your back straight as you bend your knees as if you’re sitting on an invisible chair – challenges all of the lower muscles in your body. Science journal Peer J has found that squats can improve flexibility because they are performed in a closed kinetic chain involving the hip, knee, and ankle joints, which requires a significant level of hip and ankle mobility, while also keeping your balance intact.
“These exercises can be done anywhere,” says Jones. “You can decide to do the exercises all at once or split over short sessions throughout the day, like doing counter press-ups and squats while waiting for the kettle to boil.”
Adopting a brisk pace while walking to the shops might not seem as intense as a HIIT session, but there are long-term health benefits to being a speedy walker. The key, fitness experts say, is to walk at an intensity that is manageable but also pushes your boundaries of what feels like a comfortable pace. Two papers published last year in the journals JAMA Internal Medicine and JAMA Neurology have shown that walking at a brisk pace for up to 30 minutes per day led to a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer and dementia.
So, this might be your sign to switch up your pace and turn a leisurely stroll into a power walk: of all the participants studied, the research found that participants whose average was about 80 and 100 steps per minute – had better health outcomes compared to those who walked at a slower pace.
“Walking is a good way of getting your exercise in because it is weight-bearing, which means it is good for your bone health,” says Fox. “You can stomp around and speed up and really get your heart rate going, which can bring your blood pressure down. And you really don’t need anything other than shoes.”
Reformer Pilates is having a moment. The exercise routine, which involves using a resistance machine as opposed to a traditional pilates mat, can be an effective way to burn calories while conditioning the body. Sports science specialist and pilates teacher Tracy Richardson says that reformer and traditional mat-based pilates help support better posture that helps balance the body’s skeletal structure.
“As pilates works from the core as a foundation, the musculature around the trunk, abdominals, back and pelvic floor all get a great workout. The principle of alignment helps to enhance strength and stability centred around the body’s core,” explains Richardson. Pilates also has huge mind-body benefits, too.
“Regular pilates supports your neurotransmitter activity in the brain, which influences your mood and stress level,” Richardson adds. You don’t need to complete a full hour to get the benefits out of pilates exercises. “By completing a series of five short Pilates movements you boost your dopamine, or the ‘reward chemical’, making you feel good about your achievement, and you boost serotonin which helps to stabilise your mood.”
When you complete mindful practice and “feel” the benefits of moving through the postures, you release oxytocin, the “love hormone”, as well as endorphins, “nature’s pain killers”, which in turn can lead to reduced anxiety and tiredness.
Pilates can also lead to improved blood circulation. “The lymphatic system has no ‘pump’ and so the flow of this is reliant upon muscular contraction from movement and deep diaphragmatic breathing,” says Richardson, pointing towards the benefits of breathwork. “The muscle contractions help to redistribute the fluid to support a healthy system and also to support the immune system function of responding pathogens.”