The Science of Willpower

Secrets for self-control without suffering

Stepping Outdoors Boosts Mood, Self-Esteem

Why 5 min of exercise is all you need.

We've all heard the discouraging stats on exercise for weight loss. You need to exercise for 40 minutes a day, 5 days a week....or was it 60 minutes a day, 6 days a week...or three hours a day, every day....and then wait, all that exercise can't save you if you have a desk job and sit for several hours a day....

Hold on a sec. I need to catch my breath just chasing after the latest recommendations.

But I have good news for anyone who has a hard time keeping up with these guidelines, and has given up trying to get enough exercise to do any real good. A new report from researchers at the UK's University of Essex shows that five minutes of exercise a day packs the biggest punch when it comes to boosting mood and self-image.

The researchers analyzed 10 studies that involved over 1200 participants. All 10 studies examined the self-esteem and mood benefits of "green exercise" -- that is, some activity outdoors, in the presence of trees, an open sky, water, a garden, or other natural scenery. Green exercise could be walking, running, biking, rollerblading, taking your dog out to the park, gardening, or anything that gets you outside and in the presence of mama nature.

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The biggest surprise was how powerful five minutes was: men and women, old and young, healthy and those with health challenges, all showed a big improvement in mood and self-esteem. Those benefits start to taper off and decline with longer periods of exercise. Low intensity exercise had the biggest effects; higher-intensity exercise, not so much.

Finally, a report reluctant exercisers can get behind! Not only do you not need to exercise for eight hours a day; you are doing your mental health a favor by sticking to five minutes.

And for those of you who tend to set big goals (like exercising for an hour every day), only to give up when you inevitably miss a day, use this report as a reality check. You don't need to go all-out to get a very real reward from exercising. Even if you don't have time to work up a major sweat, you can lift your spirits and bolster your confidence.

What you can do in five minutes:

* Get out of the office and walk to a tree, park, or garden. Take a few deep breaths, and back you go!

* Take the dog for a walk.

* Do a bit of yard work or puttering around your garden.

* Pick a favorite song, put on your iPod, and jog around the block.

* Step out on to a balcony with a nice view, and do a few simple yoga poses or stretches.

Other suggestions? Leave them in the comments!

Study cited: Barton J & Pretty J (2010). What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health?A Multi-Study Analysis. Environmental Science & Technology. DOI: 10.1021/es903183r

 

 

Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., is a health psychologist at Stanford University.

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