Emerging research suggests that it doesn’t take much movement to get the benefits. “We’ve been interested in the question of, How low can you go?” says Martin Gibala, an exercise physiologist at McMaster University in Ontario. He wanted to test how effective a 10-minute workout could be, compared to the typical 50-minute bout. The micro-workout he devised consists of three exhausting 20-second intervals of all-out, hard-as-you-can exercise, followed by brief recoveries. In a three-month study, he pitted the short workout against the standard one to see which was better. To his amazement, the workouts resulted in identical improvements in heart function and blood-sugar control, even though one workout was five times longer than the other. “If you’re willing and able to push hard, you can get away with surprisingly little exercise,” Gibala says. (For more on the 1-minute workout read this.)
Although the cardiovascular effects of exercise are partly related to inflammation, they still deserve their own category. Exercise is one of the best-illustrated things we can do for our hearts, and this includes markers like blood pressure and cholesterol, in addition the physical structure of the heart itself, and blood vessel function. Studies have suggested that 30 minutes per day is good enough to keep the heart in shape, while others have suggested we do more than this to get a real effect. Some have found that light activity is even enough to help the heart, but not all research confirms this, so it’s a little hard to tell how low levels of activity affect heart health over the long term. Additionally, too much exercise has also been shown to be stressful to the heart. So all this is to say that there’s probably a sweet spot somewhere in the middle for optimal cardiovascular health.
Get out of the medicine cabinet and reduce your risk of heart disease the natural way. A meta-review of a variety of studies and trials conducted by researchers in 2013 — encompassing 305 trials with more than 339,000 participants — found that no statistically detectable differences existed between those who exercised and those who were given medications in the prevention of coronary heart disease and prediabetes. (4)
One doesn't automatically associate regular exercise with a reduction in the number of colds people get. But researchers from the University of Carolina found that people who exercised regularly were 23% less likely to get colds than those who exercised less. And if those who exercised got colds, the symptoms disappeared more quickly than in the study participants who did little exercise.
HOW TO DO IT: Place your left foot on a stable low box or step (even a sturdy phone book will work). Hold your right arm forward. Quickly alternate which foot is on the box and which is on the ground from side to side. Stay on the balls of your feet throughout the movement. Perform the move at a slower, more controlled tempo at first, focusing on nice, clean exchanges of your hands and feet, and gradually increase your speed over time.
Harrison is also a hardcore burpee devotee. "It's a full-body exercise that will get your heart rate up, and it can be progressed and regressed in a variety of ways," she explains. (Psst—here are nine ways to do a burpee, no matter what your level is.) But her go-to burpee has a twist: "I also really love mountain climbers for some of the same reasons, so why not combine them?" The combo of the two will skyrocket your heart rate for a major cardio challenge.
Get down on all fours with your knees placed directly below your hips and palms placed directly below your shoulders. Now, raise your right arm forward and stretch your left leg backward at the same time. Create a tension in your back by flexing your foot. Hold the position for a few seconds and then come back to the starting position. Repeat the same using your left arm and right leg. Repeat 15 to 20 times on both sides.