It can feel intimidating to commit to an ongoing fitness plan, especially one that meets recommended guidelines in the U.S.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you should perform moderate physical activity for 150 minutes weekly — for example, five days in which you get 30 minutes of exercise. And walking, specifically brisk walking, can meet this standard. Additionally, the guidance says you should do strength training two days a week.
While a single burst of short exercise — in this case, a 10-minute walk — won’t meet these moderate physical activity recommendations, you could still reach the goal by taking three 10-minute walks each day. And, if you can’t do that, you can start with even shorter walks, which can still support a healthy life.
“The data really supports that one of the most harmful things we can do for our health is to be sedentary,” said Dr. Samantha Smith, a sports medicine physician at Yale Medicine. A sedentary lifestyle puts you at increased risk for negative cardiovascular outcomes like strokes or heart attacks and is also a risk factor for other medical conditions, she said.
It can be a pretty big leap to go from zero minutes of exercise to 150 each week. So, if you need to start small, that’s OK. Experts say shorter bouts of exercise are still beneficial, because doing something is better than doing nothing. Even that quick 10-minute walk in your day will be good for your mental and physical health. Here’s how:
Your circulation improves.
“When we stand or sit, our blood can pool in our legs,” Smith said. But as we walk and “as our muscles are squeezing, that helps with improving our circulation in our body.”
According to Smith, good circulation is important for many things. It supports tissue health, helps clear out waste products from the body and reduces the risk of blood clots.
You’ll feel more energized.
“Just getting up and moving … activates your whole system so you feel more energy, whether it’s [getting up] from your chair at work or the couch or the bed,” said Jamie Shapiro, a professor and co-director of the Sport & Performance Psychology program at the University of Denver. So, that 10-minute walk is quickly going to perk you up.
When you stand up for a walk, your blood starts flowing, which then increases your energy levels, according to Shapiro. “You just feel more activated,” she said.
Shapiro added that she likes to call these quick bouts of exercise “microbreaks,” and she noted that while many people may not have much free time during the workday, they probably can squeeze in a few microbreaks. This can benefit your energy levels and even help you feel a little less burned out, she said.
Your heart rate increases.
As soon as you start walking, your heart rate goes up, according to Smith. This is a perk for a number of reasons.
“Increasing your cardiac output during exercise helps to strengthen the heart muscle and improve fitness,” she said. She added that aerobic fitness aids in controlling blood pressure and strengthening muscles, and that it “helps to prevent progression of diseases like osteoarthritis.”
“So, really, there’s this tremendous impact of a relatively short bout of exercise,” Smith said.
A walk boosts your confidence, too.
Another benefit of walking, Shapiro said, is that “it could help people build confidence in [their] physical activity level.”
If you feel nervous about committing to a larger walking program, you can start with 10 minutes a few times a day to show yourself that you can handle it.
Witnessing the physical and mental health benefits of that 10-minute walk may help you feel empowered to fit a lengthier walk in your day, Shapiro added.
It builds your endurance.
If you stick to a consistent 10-minute regimen, you’ll find that you’re able to walk longer and longer without feeling fatigued, Smith said.
This can be helpful for lots of things — like being able to walk through cities you’re visiting or not feeling winded when quickly running an errand.
You’ll be able to concentrate better.
According to Shapiro, a walk can sharpen your concentration skills, too, and this may lead to “increased productivity, whether that’s at school or work or somewhere else.”
Since walking improves circulation, it also helps blood flow to the brain, according to Psychology Today, which notes that this is important for your thinking, attention, logic and more.
And you’ll notice a mood boost.
There’s a reason why people have the urge to take a walk during a heated argument or after a stressful meeting: Walks are mood-boosting, according to Marta Stojanovic, a postdoctoral research associate in the Psychological & Brain Sciences department at Washington University in St. Louis.
While some benefits of walking only apply to prolonged exercise programs, she noted, one 10-minute walk is shown to have a positive effect on your mood immediately.
It’s important to find a walking regimen that works for you.
You don’t have to follow a set rule when doing your 10-minute walk. Instead, you can find what fits into your lifestyle, Shapiro said.
“If the gym’s not going to work for you, do you have a park nearby? Can you even just walk around your building?” she asked.
An activity like shopping at Costco or your local grocery store can count as a walk, added Shapiro. She suggested turning on your fitness tracker while walking around a shop to prove to yourself that you can walk for 10 (or more!) minutes.
Speak with your doctor if you have a chronic health condition.
“There are certain people who might have medical conditions where they should talk with their doctor before starting an exercise program,” Smith said. “So if you are someone who has a chronic medical condition that might affect your ability to exercise … check in with your doctor before starting something new.”
Additionally, Smith said if you feel like you’re injured from a workout, you should meet with a doctor to analyze what’s going on and to get “very personalized suggestions for how to meet your goals.”
“One of my mentors always used to point out [that] it’s never a good idea, in the long run, to control your symptoms solely by reducing your physical activity,” Smith said. “In the long term, that is not a winning strategy.”