Five minutes. It’s not a lot of time. Or is it? As it happens, investing just five minutes in certain key activities can yield amazing benefits for your health and happiness.

1. Five minutes of running per day may add three years to your life.

According to this study, running for just five minutes a day greatly reduces your risk of dying prematurely. In an analysis of the exercise habits of over 55,000 men and women, the risk of dying from any cause was 30 percent lower for runners than for non-runners. The risk of heart disease declined even more — to 45 percent lower for the runners. Even overweight people and smokers who ran for five minutes a day received some longevity benefits. But any amount of exercise, however small, will have a beneficial health effect, according to numerous studies. For example, older adults who take a brisk walk for just 15 minutes a day reduce their risk of death by 22 percent. 

mimagephotography/Shutterstock
Source: mimagephotography/Shutterstock

2. Taking five minutes every hour to walk or move around will protect your health and lift your mood. 

Those who spend too much of the day on their duff are vulnerable to “sitting diseases,” such as diabetes, obesity, and atherosclerosis. Luckily, five minutes of movement every hour during the workday can “lift your mood, combat lethargy, and even dull hunger pangs,” according to this study. Although the study used a small sample size, the results were consistent with an ever-growing body of research that links exercise with numerous physical and mental health benefits.

3. Procrastinating? To get started on that task you are avoiding, use the five-minute rule.

“Nothing is as fatiguing as the continued hanging on of an uncompleted task.” Psychologist William James said that, and, if you’ve ever procrastinated, you know he was right. But you can put a stopper in that psychological drain with the five-minute rule, described here in an entertaining blog by Dr. Andrea Bonior. The gist: If you are avoiding a must-do task, tell yourself you will work on it, but only for five minutes. Then, set a timer, and once it buzzes, stop working. Tackle the task again when you are ready, perhaps for a longer period this time around. 

4. Taking a five-minute work break can increase your creativity, productivity, and morale. 

The five-minute rule can help you start any task. But some people don’t know when to stop working, even when they are getting diminishing returns on a task. These type-A personalities could benefit from setting a timer reminding them to take a break every hour (at least). Some study skills experts even recommend that students cultivate a pattern of studying for 25 minutes and taking a break for 5 minutes, then studying for another 25 and breaking for 5, etc. It’s important to accept the fact that most human minds cannot concentrate for an infinite amount of time without pushing the "refresh" button. (See more on the value of work breaks here.)

5. Taking five minutes to feel grateful every day boosts your happiness level for six months...and maybe for a lifetime.

The "3 Good Things" exercise is a well-documented way to practice gratitude. For five minutes at the end of each day, think about three good things that happened to you and consider why they happened. Doing this exercise for just one week raised participants' happiness levels for six months. You can also keep a daily gratitude journal, or just count your blessings as they occur. Practicing "the gratitude attitude" yields multiple benefits, including a bouquet of positive emotions like joy, enthusiasm, and optimism. It even seems to boost self-control

More Five-Minute Miracles

What else could you do in five minutes to improve your health, your relationships, and your state of mind?

  • Five minutes of mindful listening to your child or spouse can lead to a more loving relationship.
  • Five minutes of meditation can lower your blood pressure and help you understand your own mind.
  • Five minutes of savoring the moment — your comfy bed, a delicious meal, a massage, a talk with a friend — will help you “take in the good,” in the words of psychologist Rick Hanson. In fact, Hanson says, consciously savoring a good experience for just five seconds will install that good feeling into your long-term memory storage. (The process is described in more detail here.)

Choose one five-minute activity that would be good for your physical or mental health, and do it for five minutes today. Continue for as long as you seem to be benefiting—a lifetime, if necessary.

(c) Meg Selig, 2017.  All rights reserved.

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