“…60-75 minutes a week is enough to decrease all-cause mortality — or in other words your statistical likelihood of dying due to absolutely anything — by anywhere from 20-31%.”
There is a nearly infinite number of excuses one can come up with for health mediocrity. In fact, the human brain, despite knowing logically that good diet and exercise are important, is hardwired to screw you over when you try to do better. In today’s world, unhealthy processed foods are both very high calorie and very easy to acquire, and your brain’s reward pathways tend to work hard to get you to do as little as possible for as much return as possible. Your brain tells you, “why would you go to the store and buy multiple fresh ingredients and then figure out how to cook them, when you could walk to the corner store and pick up a pint of ice cream and call it dinner?”
Very, very similar processes exist when it comes to exercise as well. A typical human brain will actually begin generating reasons, one after another, for why you shouldn’t get up and exercise. Exercise is a metabolic stressor — a very healthy one — but it forces your brain and body to work harder during the exercise and afterwards as well in order to return to the simple, safe, comfortable homeostasis of sitting in front of a TV and eating your body weight in corn chips. Your brain will tell you, “you’re too busy with other things. The gym is too far. The gym is too expensive. You’ll feel embarrassed in front of the fit people at the gym. You’ll feel self-conscious that you don’t know how any of the machines work. You’ll be sore for days, and you have a thing tomorrow that would be affected by soreness. You twisted your ankle so there aren’t any exercises you can do anyway. You don’t want to spend money on gas. You don’t live anywhere near a gym. You aren’t fat so you don’t need to work out because it must mean you’re healthy enough. You aren’t ill with anything yet so you don’t need to work out.”
Any of these familiar? Here’s the huge danger of allowing yourself to succumb to this type of thinking: you convince yourself. You convince yourself that you have multiple perfectly logical reasons as to why you can’t and don’t exercise more. And this danger applies to excuses in general, but today we’re talking about your physical health specifically.
A number of studies and public guidelines recommend 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, or half that in vigorous activity. So in terms of time commitment, about 60-75 minutes a week is enough to decrease all-cause mortality — or in other words your statistical likelihood of dying due to absolutely anything — by anywhere from 20-31%. A Harvard-affiliated study from 2012 found that 75 minutes of brisk walking each week led to an average increase in life expectancy by 1.8 years when compared to the sedentary control. 150-300 minutes a week, or about 2.5 to 5 hours a week of just walking, adds 3.4 years on average. Over 7 hours a week of walking and you add 4.5 years. And those benefits increase if you are achieving those levels of exercise while at a normal body weight for your height, age, and build — a 7.2 year advantage on average.
And keep in mind, this study doesn’t take into consideration activity levels more vigorous than brisk walking. Other studies indicate that more vigorous exercise — assuming it is safe for you to engage in it — means more bang for your buck. And guess what? Walking is free. And vigorous exercise can also be free, and that’s where we get to the title of this episode: live longer and walk with a swagger for 1 hour a week and $0 a year.
If you are someone who does not exercise at all, or even if you do and you want an easier, faster way to mix up your workouts, then this plan is for you. I am a huge fan of calisthenics workouts, which is sort of a catch-all term referring essentially to the use of your own body weight in exercise. Yes, for a lot of things, it’s great to have access to some fancy machines and heavier weights. One of the main reasons I have a gym membership at all is because of a knee injury that for about a year made it difficult for me to do lower body exercise without really isolating my legs with safe, controlled motions. But now that I’m farther along rehabilitation, I’m able to get back to it, and for a vast majority of people listening, you can too.
My goal today is to force you to eliminate the two most common excuses for lack of exercise: “I don’t have money” and “I don’t have time.” These can be absolutely eliminated from your day to day vocabulary forever. One of the biggest “bang for your buck” workouts is to literally do all-out sprints. I’m not going to ask you to do that because I don’t think it’s practical. If you’re not in good shape, you’ll pull something. If you live somewhere that rains, snows, or gets really hot, it’s much too easy to convince yourself not to sprint. Sprinting is also fairly hard on the body, so if you have any lower extremity or back injury, or if you’re overweight or a bit more advanced in age, then it may actually be rather risky or even impossible to engage in all-out sprinting. Sprinting can also be unstructured, making it too easy to bail on a sprinting workout a few minutes in because it’s hard. But the reason sprinting is such a big “bang for your buck” is that it is an enormously involved metabolic stressor. Your entire body is participating at full force and this means that after you’re done, your body actually needs to put more work into returning you to that baseline homeostasis. Of course, low-pace long-distance running still has its benefits, but sprinting can get you a very similar set of benefits in a fraction of the time requirement.
So the key, then, is to create an equipment-free or nearly equipment-free, highly structured, indoor-friendly workout program that simulates a sprint. Enter high intensity interval training, or HIIT. There are a ton of names and forms of this such as TABATA and circuit training, but they follow the same basic principle: do a variety of different workouts with very little rest in between.
Here’s a great example that can be done in __ minutes with zero exercise equipment:
30 seconds of jump squats, 10 seconds rest.
30 seconds of wide pushups, 10 seconds rest.
30 seconds of jumping lunges, 10 seconds rest.
30 seconds of narrow pushups, 10 seconds rest.
30 seconds of body weight squats, 10 seconds rest.
30 seconds of crunches, 10 seconds rest.
30 seconds of mountain climbers, 10 seconds rest.
30 seconds of using your left arm to lift a reasonably heavy household item, 10 seconds rest.
30 seconds on the other arm.
1-2 minutes rest and repeat the entire set two more times.
This is a super straight-forward workout program that doesn’t require any equipment and can be done in your bedroom, and I promise you it will work you out. If you’re already very fit, then just extend the workout times or decrease the rest. The program I just described requires 21 minutes if you stick to 1 minute of rest between each superset. 21 minutes and $0. Of course, if you aren’t familiar with any of the terms, they are pretty general terms that you can look up, and I do also recommend either looking up some tutorials on good form, or start your journey by hiring a personal trainer or enlisting an experienced friend for help. And of course as well, you can make adjustments to that program, but it serves as a good outline because it involves nearly all of your body and with minimal rest will get your heart rate up into vigorous exercise territory, usually quite quickly. By not taking long rests, you keep your heart rate high, which allows us to simulate the benefits of a sprint without having to actually spring. Additionally, you can add more variety and effectiveness to the workout by purchasing a doorframe pull-up bar, which usually costs around $30, and by purchasing a dumbbell or kettlebell of reasonably challenging weight for approximately $1 per pound.
So if you do that program three times a week, you can reach an hour of vigorous exercise per week without ever leaving the house or spending a penny. So those are no longer valid excuses. And the benefits are immense! You will legitimately live a longer life, and those years you do live are likely to be spent more enjoyably as you will be benefitting from improved confidence, improved hormone and neurotransmitter balance, and decreased illness such as heart disease. Again, you should always enlist the help of trained professionals and potentially physicians prior to engaging in strenuous exercise, but I nonetheless feel that this type of high intensity interval training is a fun, inexpensive, low-commitment way to involve yourself in very challenging physical activity, and it’s something that a significant portion of the population can do safely.
I don’t need to reiterate all of the health benefits of exercise compared to a totally sedentary lifestyle. I don’t need to reiterate the mental benefits either. I don’t need to reiterate even the financial benefits in the medical bills you won’t be paying, or that you’ll delay paying by years. I don’t need to mention that a good diet is still important. All I do need to mention is that if you can find ONE hour a week and if you can afford ZERO dollars per year, then you can be on the road to a better, healthier life TODAY. Get up, start today, and show yourself and everyone else what you’re capable of.