Too Busy to Exercise? Try These 6 Quick-Fix Workouts

New research shows you can protect your heart, feel less pain, have better sex or add years to your life by working out fewer than 30 minutes a day. Really!

By Melinda Dodd
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Photograph: Leon Steele

When you're trying to get in the mood after a long day, consider seeking help from an unlikely source: your gym. Over two decades, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have demonstrated that when women spend 20 minutes on a treadmill or stationary bike, then watch an erotic film, they increase blood flow to their vaginal walls by an average of 50 percent compared with when they just watch the film. The effects of exercise can last up to 30 minutes, making it a boon in the bedroom, where your partner's body (or other sexual stimuli) could work in lieu of the movie. “Exercise may be able to help women who aren't getting lubricated enough or who feel that their genitals aren't sufficiently aroused,” says study author Lisa Dawn Hamilton, PhD, now an assistant psychology professor at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada. Working out activates the sympathetic nervous system, sending blood throughout your body; subsequent exposure to arousing stimuli can keep the juices flowing. 

Time | 10 minutes
What | Vigorous running or biking
Frequency | Once a day
Result | Helps ward off obesity and metabolic syndrome 

A study reported last year in Science Translational Medicine looked at the effects that 10 minutes' worth of vigorous running or stationary bicycling had on 21 different metabolites, small molecules that reflect what's going on with various fuel sources in your body. Blood samples from 78 subjects taken after each workout revealed that exercise activates metabolites that play a role in generating energy, increasing insulin sensitivity, preserving muscle, destroying fat and staving off the effects of stress. The researchers say that together such changes may help fend off obesity and metabolic syndrome (a combination of symptoms that increases your risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease). 

Time | 25 minutes
What | Non-weight-bearing exercise
Frequency | As needed
Result | Diminishes physical pain by 28 percent 

Exercise may be one of the easier pain-reducing options for the millions who suffer from lower-back pain, according to a study in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development in which eight people with chronic back problems rode stationary bikes for 25 minutes. By the end of the exercise session, the subjects' sensitivity to a painful stimulus had dropped by 28 percent. The researchers hypothesize that working out may “block the release of neurotransmitters that communicate pain, or block the passing of information from one nerve to the next,” says study coauthor Philip S. Clifford, PhD, professor of anesthesiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. 

Time | 15 minutes
What | Any moderate-intensity exercise
Frequency | Three times a week
Result | May help decrease dementia risk by up to 38 percent 

A team from Seattle's Group Health Research Institute studied the workout habits of 1,740 people over age 65. After six years, those who had exercised moderately at least 15 minutes a day (by, say, walking) three times a week were 38 percent less likely to exhibit mental deterioration. “We suspect that exercise helps improve circulation and boosts the health of the blood vessels in the brain, making you better able to withstand stress to the hippocampus, where memory lives,” explains lead study author Eric B. Larson, MD. 

Originally published in the December 2011/January 2012 issue of More. 

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First Published December 7, 2011

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