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Will 30 minutes a day of anything change my life? What about 10?

CW: mention of 30-day challenges promising weight loss and changes in body shape, strength, fitness, health– all being critiqued here.

30 is a very popular number among health and fitness writers and vendors. In 30 days, if the internet is to be believed, we can:

  • become runners– sprint, marathon, you name it;
  • revolutionize our core/quad/lat/fill-in-the-blank muscles;
  • do a jillion squats/crunches/pullups/pushups/dips– whatever your pleasure;
  • perfect our posture (that was a new one for me);
  • and the list goes on…
A veritable buffet of 30-day programs, all dedicated to change you from head to toe. Allegedly.

30 also figures prominently in self-improvement programs, as 30 minutes seems to be the magical amount of time needed per day in order for complete and total transformation from shapeless, hapless, and amoeboid to ship-shape, sharp, and sure of ourselves.

In 30 minutes a day, you can get better health, fitness, grammar, intelligence, and even reverse aging. Allegedly.

What is it about 30? Is it true that we really need to do something 30 minutes a day for 30 days in order:

  • for us to see any results?
  • for it to be worth our time/money/effort?
  • for anything to happen at all?

What if, some days, we only do 15 minutes of whatever feat we are attempting (be it plank holding or meditation or watching Russian language videos)? Or 10? or 5? Is it all for nothing?

Of course the answer is no. Every minute counts. How do I know this? Easy, I looked it up. Check out this 2017 article, cited in a Harvard Medical School online publication, that:

found that inactive older adults who added just 48 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week lowered their risk of major disability compared with sedentary people.

Wait, there’s more:

Another study, published in the January 2018 American Journal of Preventive Medicine, involved almost 140,000 older adults, average age 71, almost half of whom were men. It showed that doing moderate-intensity workouts totaling less than 150 minutes per week still was enough exercise to lower the risk of early death when compared with inactivity.

30 really isn’t a magic number. We don’t have to do something 30 days in a row for it to be meaningful, and we don’t have to spend 30 minutes a day doing it for it to count. Every day we devote to whatever activities that figure in our goals– physical, intellectual, creative, philanthropic, gastronomic, you name it– counts. And every minute counts, too.

In case you prefer a diagrammatic explanation, here’s one:

The number line. Positive numbers are all those to the right of zero. And they all count.

Readers: do you feel like you need 30 minutes a day in order to get up and running (as it were) in a new activity? Does doing a few minutes a day here and there suffice? I’d love to hear about your experiences with 30/less-than-30 programs.

2 thoughts on “Will 30 minutes a day of anything change my life? What about 10?

  1. 30 reminds me of calorie counting and the Canadian Air Force exercises I did in high school. I hate to be told exactly how to do anything, including move my body. I aim to keep moving. I do weights and bands three times a week for about an hour each time. I enjoy that and it keeps me getting out of the chair without effort.

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