Doing Something Trumps Doing Nothing

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Last month I had the privilege to attend a running symposium sponsored by one of my local area hospitals here in Dallas.  The highlight of the event was having the opportunity to listen to and ask questions of legendary running coach, Greg McMillan. As a long time fan of his, I was like a kid meeting her local sports superstar. To me he embodies the sensibility of what it takes to become not just a runner, but a life-long runner.

One of the most important lessons I took away from that day was that even in times of stress many of us can carve out ten minutes to do something. And usually that ten minutes can make a huge difference in how we approach the emotional stress in our lives.
Exercise is a physical stress placed on our bodies which in turn forces our bodies to adapt over time to that stress. But what do we do when we are bombarded with the emotional stress of day to day living? What happens when our little ones get sick or the water heater begins leaking? What happens when we are forced to work late therefore we miss our weekly Zumba class?  

While professional athletes get paid to train and participate in their chosen sport, most of us have to work our exercise in and around our daily lives. I can't begin to tell you how many times I missed a workout because something unexpectedly came up that kept me from running or getting to the gym that day.  For this reason I do my best to schedule my workouts just like I do any other important appointment, but I will confess, I don't always get in a run even when I know I should, just because too many other things take priority.

During our talk, Coach McMillan made it a point to say even if life gets in the way, if we can just carve out enough time for a ten minute run, it could do wonders for our health and emotional benefit. As the old saying goes, "no run, no matter how short is ever wasted, but a run that is missed will always be  a run that is missed."
In a recent USA Today article the American College of Sports Medicine is taking the same stance--that regardless of what the guidelines instruct us to do, whenever we strive to become more active in our lives we are moving toward a healthier way of living.

According to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, most people need:

-2 hours 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate intensity activity a week OR

-1 hour 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous activity per week OR

A combination of the two. This is to maintain a level of physical activity.

When you increase the amount to 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate activity or 150 minutes (2 hrs 30 min) of vigorous activity per week OR a combo of both you will receive added health benefits.

Add in 2 sessions of full body resistance training per week and you should be good to go.
But even these guidelines may be a tad too overzealous for many of us. We all know the long term health effects of living a sedentary lifestyle, but what if we can all learn to embrace just getting up and moving. Just maybe, we can turn the tide of unhealthy living. From someone who could only do 10 minutes on the elliptical six years ago, I am glad back then I did not feel the need to conform to the guidelines mentioned above. For me it wasn't so much that I did not have the time, although that was a factor, but more I did not have the stamina to do more than my 10 minutes, two or three times a day. Fast forward to today and I more than meet the guidelines, but I am glad I was able to do it at my speed and under my terms.

Do you believe that the fitness industry is conforming too much to those who are sedentary or do you find it is helpful in just getting those who do not commit to exercise up and moving?

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When I started with Spark I was willing to change my eating but my sister had to take me kicking and screaming out the door. LOL At 325 lbs I could barely walk half block. So I think if you start out with 10 min intervals you will work your way up. After losing 175 lbs I am now doing at least 200 min of aerobic activity each week. Thank you! Report
For a lot of us, it would be a good thing if we could get ourselves up to the level of activity recommended by the guidelines. Hopefully, most people who get themselves up to the minimum level will go on to do even more. I suspect that the guidelines were set not at a hypothetical "ideal" level, but at a relatively minimal level, to persuade people that it's doable, to avoid scaring beginners away from starting an exercise program, and perhaps even to encourage moderation. So many people get overenthusiastic when beginning a new activity, and overdoing exercise at first could lead to burnout or injury and may perpetuate feelings of defeat and inadequacy.

I used to keep a calendar in which I checked each day that I did something for at least 20 minutes (total). Some days 20 minutes seemed like a lot, but once I got going, I almost never wanted to stop there. That was a really good year for me. Sometime, I might want to try it again. I don't need it right now, because I am currently getting 2+ hours of exercise per day commuting to work on my bicycle. Report
10 minutes of exercise at a time is a great start but I don't want to stay there. For a beginner 30 minutes seems overwhelming and I used to figure I couldn't do 30 minutes so why bother? No benefit for 10 or 15 minutes. One step at a time..... Report
For me, being active 10 minutes a day would be an improvement over last semester. Reading this article made me think...I could park 5 minutes from my office each day and accomplich this goal. And maybe that would encourage me to leave work at work and not carry home a bunch of papers. :)
Sometimes a 10-minute workout is all you CAN do! One 10-minute workout per week really won't do much but if your choice is sit on the couch for 10 minutes because you can't fit in 45 minutes on the treadmill, or working up a sweat, increasing your fitness, and revving up your metabolism for 10 minutes, which one would you choose if you were truly committed to fitness? Report
This is a great! We all need a sustainable exercise routine that fits into our lives even when things get crazy! I'd like to add that it is good to always have a back-up plan for those hectic days. I have found it invaluable to have a couple go-to exercises that don't take a lot of prep or time for the days I get home late from work or miss lap swim time at the gym.

My favorites: 1. Throwing on some walking shoes and taking my dog for a quick 20 minute jaunt around the neighborhood. 2. Getting on my bike (hooked into a trainer) on days the weather is bad or I don't have time to get to a trail. 3. Exercising with a short exercise video from Netflix. Report
I think the advice is fine, the only problem I have with it is that 10 minutes is never really 10 minutes. Sure, if you exercise for 10 minutes, that's fine, but when you factor in getting changed into workout clothes, then possibly needing to drive somewhere to exercise, then warming up, then exercising, then cooling down, then stretching, then changing out of clothes and re-driving back home and cleaning up, 10 minutes turns into 1 hour or more. So I think the argument that you can do anything for 10 minutes is a little weak when you consider the activities it takes to actually perform that 10 minutes! Just sayin... Report
I think it's a good average. Everyone is different & has different needs & abilities. I say, do what you can & what feels right. We have to listen to our bodies. I average 300 minutes a week so these numbers seem low to me but not everyone can play volleyball 2 nights a week AND get to the gym 5 days a week.

We all have differnt levels of ability, what is good for me might not be good for the next person so these are just guidelines. But I do agree, I would rather do 10 minutes on my elliptical than nothing at all. Report
The 10 minute plan is great. I am just starting the Sparks program. I was a coach potato before my lungs gave out and worked at a desk 50 to 60 hours a day. My legs got weaker and weaker. Then I was taken by ambulance from work to the ER. I do not recall any of this. It was 18 days later that I started to come back and realized I was being kept alive by machines. It was another 14 days before I got any occupational or physical therapy. I left the rehab center in a wheel chair, could do short distances with a walker, unable to go up steps and needing help to get in and out of bed, chairs and car. Exercise was limited to things I could do sitting. It is still hard because of the oxygen tubing. I can now do steps if there are railings with my arms doing a lot of the work. I started with 15 steps taking me 20 minutes and now can do it in 10. It's not pretty but it gets me around in my house. Exercising on my own is harder than in PT where someone worked with me for 40 minutes three days a week one on one. When that stopped, I got lazy again. When someone is talking to you, the time goes by faster. Thinking just 10 minutes really helps me. Ten minutes at a time doesn't mean you can't do an additional 10 minutes later in the day. A special thanks to all of you who blogged that 10 minutes is a great way to start. I needed that. I want to live not exist and watching food intake is not enough. I am starting to see that exercising is the key and like it or not it's the only way to unlock the door and enter a new healthy life. Report
I think it is great if the fitness industry encourages 10 minutes of activity. If they are unrealistic, they will only push sedentary folks away. Demanding more will only make folks defensive. Well, perhaps some folks like or want that push, but I'd wager the majority don't. Let people get moving gradually, and encourage them. No need to be nasty or beat people up. I bet they have stress in their lives or they wouldn't be sedentary! Report
I think that getting started is the hardest part--was for me! Now I am aiming for 60 minutes a day but fell good if I get that 4 times a week. So--get people started and feeling good about doing something and then get them to do more. That is one thing SparkPeople has taught me! Report
Good advice! "A body in motion stays in motion.....". Something is better than nothing! Report
Just getting off the couch and doing as little or as much exercise as one can each day is great even if it is only 5 minutes! It can lead to a healthier lifestyle because of the way you feel after working out. This is how I started out and now I've moved up to an hour a day five times a week. Report
I believe in starting slow! I started with one block around my neighborhood and worked up to the 4 mi. I walk now.
I slowly added free weights etc.
I never could have done it any other way! Report
I completely support the idea that 'something beats nothing.' I have times at work that are crazy busy during the school year, but even on those days I try to fit in something. After a 12-hour workday, I'm way too tired to go for a 5k run or do 40 minutes of circuit training, but I have a few 10- and 15-minute workout videos I can pop in when I get home. It keeps me in the habit of healthy living, and prevents me from having 'all or nothing' thinking when it comes to my healthy lifestyle journey. Report
I'm someone who periodically has to slow myself down to avoid overuse injuries, so this is a great reminder that its not all or nothing. Report
I think the guidlines are good to start people moving.
it encourages me to do more then i have been. Report
Doing Something Trumps Doing Nothing! the benefits of just a little exercise are often enough to do more. Walking out to the garden trumps playing farmville! Report
For a long time, my only exercise was walking to the post office 5 days a week for work and the occasional trip to the bank. The post office walk took about 10 minutes round trip and the bank maybe 15 to 20. During that time, I was at my lowest weight since having my children and I felt better too. When those duties were handed off to someone else, I started putting the weight back on so I firmly believe that something is better than nothing. Report
I believe that if the fitness industry can get a sedentary person moving that's great. It's a start and will hopefully get them to add additional cardio and strength training Report
I know I go in spuurts...some days I do a lot and others not much or nothing at all outside of taking my dog for a walk...I think it is better to do something even if its only for a short time because 110-150 minutes can look daunting to some and they will give up...better to work up to that at youur own pace. Report
I think 10 minutes is a good starting point, the first time I tried to do 15 minutes of cardio this year I really wiped myself out, my body just wasn't as up to it as I thought it would be and though I was OK at the time I really paid for it over the next 2 days it took me to recover! So I went to 10 minutes 3 times a week and that helped me build up to being OK for an occasional 15 minute workout without a devastating aftermath. Before I got sick I used to do cardio exercise 2 hours or so a day so I was really surprised that 15 was beyond me! Report
In spite of how many years I've been exercising, getting out the door is still the toughest part. If I think just 10 minutes and it gets me out the door - it's all good! Report
10 minutes is a realistic start and knowing that it will lead to more endurance is motivational. Getting started is the hardest and most important thing. Report
I think that these guidelines are for the couch potato set. 2.5 hours may represent only one day of my workout regimen. Some days I might get 60 minutes in, but others may have 4 hours (boot camp followed by a 3 hour hike, for example).

Before I started 2.5 hours a week might have sounded unrealistic. But nothing is accomplished without hard work. In the beginning, doing anything is a big accomplishment.
I think that telling someone they should do something for 10 minutes a day is great. It is better than nothing after all. That is similar to how I get myself to workout. I tell myself all I have to do is 15 minutes, but I usually go at least twice that. It gets me going, but if I am having a hard time, instead of being disappointed in myself, I feel proud for accomplishing something. It's motivating. I don't know if the guidelines are changing. Maybe they are in order to accomodate our busy lifestyles and not necessarily laziness. Report
Being a confident fitness participant makes it easier to accept the carved out 10 to 15 minute activities as being beneficial. There is a mixture of the euphoria of exercise along with the escape from whatever else is going on in your life when you can be active in longer time periods.

I have had to learn to accept the shorter time periods, and, when the longer time slots are available, jealously guard the time by being on the lookout for "the unexpected" that only I can do. Turns out, in some cases, someone else in the family or at work can look after that. I just had to have built up the fortitude and executive mindset of: "That's not my job - get someone else on this, right away, and get back to me as to how it turned out." When I take care of me, then I can be there for the truly "I'm the only one who can do it" scenarios. Report
While I don't believe this yet, I did allow the thinking to help me. I pretty much believe we need 60 min of continuous exercise. When I wasn't able to get to my swim class last Friday, I went to the 24 Fitness and swam 45 min. I didn't let the "missing" 15 min bother me, instead keeping in mind that 10 min is better than nothing. Report
I agree that getting started is the hardest part! When I'm walking, I've found that if I go on a walk around a few blocks, I have to finish...There's obviously no stopping. If i go to the track, I can jip myself bc I can stop, hop in my car & head home. Report
Getting STARTED is the hardest part of exercise, so encouraging people to do ten minutes is a great idea, because that means they STARTED.
I think it's a good idea to get them up and moving. For me, that's always been the hardest part. If somebody would have told me years ago that getting up and exercising for just 10 minutes at any one time could change my life, I might have started my healthy lifestyle journey sooner. :) It's too easy to think that if you can't go all-out, you can't ever be healthy. It's important to help people realize that doing ANYTHING is better than doing nothing. Report
I can do anything for 10 minutes. :)
While I know it's true that Wii Fit doesn't exactly come close to an actual workout, that was how I started a year and a half ago. I think I started with fifteen minutes of Wii Fit a day, and eventually I was doing 30 minute exercise videos, going to the gym and taking an aerobics class. So I think that starting with just any type of activity even in short increments is a good thing, because it can lead to a more active lifestyle in the long run. Report
I think it's important to let people know that every little bit helps. I started with 15 minutes 3-4 times a week. I now do at least 30 minutes of cardio every day and am slowly adding in strength training. Everyone needs a starting point. I think reminding people that EVERYONE can do 10 minutes is great. It doesn't mean they won't start doing more once they get into it. Report
I think starting with just 10 minutes is very doable, even for people who are sedentary most of the time. Starting small has encouraged me tremendously. I liked what the coach said about a short run is never wasted, but a run missed will always be a run missed. I think I'm going to get out there and run tonight! Thanks for the inspiration. Report
I believe that in encouraging people to get up and get moving they can hopefully help to turn the tide of obesity that so many of us (me included) suffer from. I've certainly built up my ability to walk further and do more as time has gone on. I increased my activity over time and it's been wonderful. Report
In the end, you have to really really want it. Whether that be seeing your kids graduate or knowing at just 18 you could die before your own parent. Moving ten minutes was always too I would walk one mile (20 min) and I increased.It became a good habit until tradgedy happened.But I've learned, if you really really want it, which I do, then you'll work at a pace that you know is better than before and won't break a bone.Ten minutes is something I think America should do.A ten minute walk once a year.Maybe people will see what they can do and how ten minutes just put they're body in motion. Report
THey are just trying to get people moving. Some people just can't be reached. Report
It starts one step at a time. If they told us that it wasn't worth it unless you could workout vigorously for 1hr+ per day, many of us wouldn't even try. I am starting with just 10-15 minutes of exercise per day, and it is working for me. As I get very serious about that habit, I can slowly bump up the time, but for many people like me, you won't get to something big if you don't start with something small. Report
The industry is doing everything they can think of! Fitness makes money so they will do what they have to do to stay in business. The problem is the sedentary people are BLOCKED. They have varying levels from completely to partially blocked to the idea of just plain moving. It is like your coach says, even if it is just 10 minutes. We know they have 10 minutes for a walk, but they take zero walks. So we all spread the Spark and hope for the best. I think the fitness industry is saving lives. Report
Thank goodness I didn't know much about guidelines but had heard plenty about moving in ten minute increments being beneficial. There was a time not too long ago when two minutes on the elliptical was pure torture. Now, four months later, I can do thirty minutes. I started Zumba class by falling flat on my backside (stood on a shoelace with my feet crossed and tried to move the bottom foot). I proved in that first class no one is watching me. No one even noticed I hit the floor. LOL! I've been sidelined from Zumba for a time, but I've gone from zero to six days a week working out ... not all at once, but at my own pace ... with the help of a personal trainer. I train with him two days a week, take one of his classes another day, and workout on my own three days a week. It all started with moving just ten minutes at a time. Report
I think they are encouraging people to do the best they can with the hope they will do more as they gain strength and stamina. My mantra is if you are moving you are excerpting.This has helped me to not only encourage myself but others to not compare myself to others abilities. Report