Three Cheers for Minimalism! It’s Good for Your Health

minimalist stairsOne of my favourite topics is “doing less.”  I think it’s a totally underrated “solution” to many of life’s problems, including fitness.  Who isn’t attracted the possibility that less actually is more?

That’s why the pomodoro technique is so great.

That’s why teeny tiny habits are cool.

That’s why work-life balance is a thing.

And that’s why everyone is talking about the KonMari method of getting rid of stuff. If you missed the memo, check it out in The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up .by Maria Kondo. Quirky but absorbing.

So when Sam sent me “The Magic of Minimum Exercise” from Reboot with Joe, I liked what I read. He breaks it down to a simple choice that busy folks have to make on a regular basis:

If we break it down, there are really three choices here: Do nothing. Do something minimal. Do a lot. And my answer is: Do something minimal.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Do something minimal. Because, the thinking goes, most of us can find a few minutes in a day to do a little something. And the research supports the idea that we get a lot of benefit from a minimal effort:

You may be surprised to know that the difference between doing something minimal and doing a lot is much smaller than the difference between doing nothing and doing just a little something. Or, to put it another way, doing just a little bit is vastly more important than doing nothing at all.

This was made abundantly clear in a landmark report in the American Medical Association’s journal Internal Medicine that recently landed on my desk. What the authors wanted to check out was whether the government’s 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans was still accurate. Those guidelines, which I talk about in my book Fully Charged, recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. In other words, about 20 minutes of moderate exercise per day, or about 10 minutes of intense exercise per day.

In the new report, researchers looked at data on more than 660,000 American and European men and women gathered in previous studies. Those who did the minimum recommended amount of exercise cut their chances of dying prematurely by one third. Not bad for 20 minutes a day of walking.

But here’s the more interesting discovery: If you went past the minimums—two or three times the least you should do—you were only slightly better off.

I also think it’s not just about the physical pay-off. A good friend called me today to say she was feeling crappy about herself. At first, for about 10 seconds, she attributed it to weight gain. But in no time she got to the heart of the issue: too much time for others, not enough for herself. That’s enough to make anyone feel lousy. Even an unbelievably awesome and self-aware woman like my friend.

We chatted a bit and we both started to state the obvious: sometimes, just getting out for a walk or a few laps in the pool or a yoga class can make the difference between feeling awful about ourselves and feeling good about ourselves. Self-care in the form of exercise offers an all-around boost. Good for the body, good for the soul.

Along with this, so many of us are far too rigid in what we “count” as exercise. I’ve come along way in this area since I first starting thinking about it. Granted, I’m still sometimes a bit of a taskmaster and my schedule of activities is overfull.

But some days, I’ll count the walk from the parking lot to my office. And if it doesn’t feel like enough, I’ll go to the library (which is quite a few buildings away from my office) or, I’ll leave my desk to go wash my lunch dishes upstairs instead of in the kitchen right next door. It gets me up and moving around. I feel as if I’m doing something for myself. And taking a break from work can’t be a bad thing.

If you’re going to go minimalist, you need to be willing to count generously. And if you’re generous (but honest–probably for me going to do the dishes upstairs doesn’t count for a whole lot, but I like to think of it as a healthy habit) and committed to the minimum, your risk of premature death drops significantly. Really.

Three cheers for minimalism! Hip, hip, hooray!


4 thoughts on “Three Cheers for Minimalism! It’s Good for Your Health

  1. The best triathlon coaches are pretty adamant about doing the least amount of work necessary to get results. I like it, as it’s a definite pushback against some triathletes who think putting in 20-hour training weeks (!) is the only way to be successful.

  2. This is a wonderful article! I am a perfectionist, so when I’m getting fit, I tend to go for all or nothing. But, now that I’m moving into adulthood, I don’t have time for that mentality and it’s made it hard to be where I want to be. So, this article is exactly what I needed.

  3. I like small habits approach. It can yield big benefits overall, long term. And it’s small, which can slowly increase when needed, so that it doesn’t feel like a huge psychological barrier to get into small good habits to make big changes.

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