A few minutes a day can improve your muscle strength

One of the most popular New Year’s resolutions is to exercise more. Many of us set ambitious goals that require a lot of regular commitment, but then abandon them because they are too many to fit.

So, how to exercise more regularly in the new year?

If the goal is to build long-term fitness and health, exercise must be sustainable. Committing to doing an extra few minutes of muscle-strengthening exercise each day is achievable.

Research shows that even contracting a muscle once a day, five days a week, can improve muscle strength if you do it for a month.

Why do we need to exercise?
Physical activity guidelines recommend that we get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, as well as muscle-strengthening exercise at least twice a week.

Skeletal muscle tissue declines with age, leading to loss of function and independence in older adults. Therefore, it is important to regularly perform muscle-strengthening exercises to stimulate the skeletal muscles of the legs, arms, and trunk.

However, 85 percent did not meet the physical activity recommendations for weekly aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise. Reasons include lack of time, lack of motivation, and lack of access to exercise facilities.

Addressing these barriers is important because physical inactivity increases the risk of many chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis (weak bones), dementia, depression and anxiety.

Short bouts of exercise can build muscle strength
A recent study by one research group found that small amounts of regular resistance training may be better than one massive session, even with the same overall amount of exercise.

The research team asked participants to perform an arm curl exercise consisting of 30 maximal contractions (thus, contracting the muscles as hard as possible) per week for four weeks. One group had six contractions a day, five days a week; the other repeated 30 times a week.

The group that did it all in one sitting showed no increase in muscle strength, while the group that spread out 30 repetitions over five days saw a more than 10 percent increase in muscle strength.

In another study, we found that doing a three-second bicep contraction once a day, five days a week, increased muscle strength by 12%.

Participants contract muscles from a flexed position to an extended position, as if slowly lowering a weight.

In both studies, participants used special equipment in our lab and used as much force as possible, but slowly lowering heavy dumbbells a few times produced similar results.

Incorporate exercise into your routine
We’re investigating the effects of five minutes of ‘weird’ exercise a day on the health and fitness of sedentary people. Eccentric exercises activate and lengthen muscles.

We have studied the effects of sitting slowly in a chair and found it to be effective in improving leg muscle strength, chair sitting, walking and balance in older adults.

Many of us sit down on a chair or sofa more than a dozen times a day. So if we sit down slowly every time we sit down, we’re doing at least ten eccentric contractions of the muscle each day to extend the knee joint. This is a good opportunity for us to do eccentric exercises every day to simulate the muscles of the legs.

Eccentric contractions don’t just affect your muscles, they can also improve health markers like blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Start small and build momentum
Our study focused on resistance exercise, but it applies to aerobic exercise as well. Walking for five minutes a day can still benefit your health.

However, if you’re already doing regular weekly gym workouts, adding a little more to each day probably won’t add much of an additional effect, so there’s no need to replace a consistent regular workout routine with smaller micro-sessions.

But for those just starting out who might find the commitment to take on a big sport daunting, a little exercise is usually a good start. Once your fitness improves, you can add more exercise.

So how about setting a resolution to spend five minutes exercising every day in 2023?