It’s easy for fitness to take a backseat to ugly sweater parties, eggnog, long travel days and a few too many sweets this time of year. But instead of kicking yourself for sleeping through morning yoga again, try focusing on what you’re doing right. That 10-minute jog, or quickie strength training session you squeezed in this week might have way bigger benefits than you’d expect. Here are 10 science-backed signs your temporary holiday backslide isn’t so bad.
10 Science-Backed Reasons Your Fitness Slump Isn’t So Bad
1. Weekend workouts go a long way.
Social calendar packed every day after work? Don’t sweat it. Even if you only make it to the gym on the weekends, you can still hit your fitness goals, according to a 2006 German study. Just make those sessions a little longer. Researchers found that people who fit in intense 75-minute workouts both days of the weekend had the same endurance gains as those who worked out at the same intensity for 30 minutes, five days a week. Phew.
2. Twenty minutes on the yoga mat still counts.
You can still reap the health benefits of yoga even if you can’t manage to power through an hour of chaturangas. Consider this: Just 20 minutes of Hatha yoga could help your brain function better, according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health. After 20 minutes of yoga, the study’s undergrad students had quicker reaction times and increased accuracy in a cognitive test than they did after 20 minutes of walking or jogging on a treadmill.
“Two minutes of light-intensity movement every hour is enough to see a benefit.”
3. One day of weight training isn’t a waste.
Worried your hard-earned muscles are wasting away? (You’re not alone.) While we’re big believers in strength training regularly, it’s not the end of the world if you can only fit in one lift this week. According to one study of people over 60, strength training once a week can be just as effective as twice a week. Participants who performed a set of strength exercises once a week saw equal increases in their leg press, leg extension, leg curl, chest fly, arm curl and seated dip one-rep maxes compared to those who performed the same set of exercises twice a week.
4. Party duties can replace your power walk.
Decking the halls with boughs of holly might burn more calories than you’d expect. Stocking up to host a holiday party? Thirty minutes of grocery shopping with a cart can burn 105 calories or more. Cooking for that party? That’s at least another 75 calories. And if you spend an hour vacuuming or mopping before or after company arrives, you’re going to burn about 150 calories.
5. Three hardcore minutes of sweat might be all you need.
While you should aim for 30 minutes of exercise a day — even as little as 30 minutes a week can lead to improved endurance and fitness, according to one very encouraging recent study. The best part? Only three minutes of that needs to be all-out work. Study participants rode stationary bikes for 10 minutes, three times a week. They did a two-minute warm-up; three, 20-second all-out sprints followed by two minutes of slow recovery; and a three-minute cool down. After six weeks, their endurance capacity increased by an average of 12 percent, and they also saw improvements in blood pressure levels and overall fitness.
6. You’re making the most of the mistletoe.
Pucker up: A recent study of young, healthy couples found that sexual activity can sometimes qualify as exercise. In the name of science, couples wore portable fitness trackers while getting it on so researchers could understand how much energy they expended. The results? People burned approximately 85 calories and their energy expenditure was clocked as ‘moderate intensity.’ And hey, it’s more fun than the elliptical.
7. You’re standing two minutes every hour.
Getting off your butt, even if it’s just for a short walk to the other side of the office, could give you significant protection against “sitting disease,” a recent study finds. Two minutes of light-intensity movement every hour is enough to see a benefit, according to the research findings.
8. You take the bus to work.
The Earth will thank you — and so will your body. People who take public transit are three times more likely than those who drive to meet the suggested daily minimum of physical activity, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia. Unless there happens to be a bus stop right outside your door, most people have to walk to their pick-up point, which in many cases can add up to 30 minutes on either end of a daily commute. Bonus points if you get off at an earlier stop to get in some extra leg work!
9. You jogged a mile (or less!).
When time is precious, it’s probably nice to hear that just five to 10 minutes of jogging at less than a 10-minute per mile pace is still good for your heart, according to a recent large study of middle-aged men and women. Joggers had a 30 percent lower risk of dying of any cause during the study’s 15 years of follow up, compared to non-joggers. They also had a 45 percent lower risk of dying from a heart-related problem and gained three years of life expectancy. Plus, another study found that jogging may be even more beneficial than faster running when it comes to upping your life expectancy.
10. You’re getting your daily recommended dose of exercise amidst the cookies.
Even if you’re used to clocking longer workouts, you’re still way ahead of the pack if your schedule finds you squeezing in just 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five days a week. That’s what the American Heart Association recommends for heart health, and a 2011 study found that that much physical activity per week can lower the risk of heart disease by 14 percent. Remember: The influx of Christmas cookies in your life is temporary — but a habit like this one has much longer lasting benefits.