No Time for Exercise? Get Moving with One-Minute Exercise

By Ilchi Lee | Published 4/13/2021 1

woman lifting weights one-minute exercise (no time for exercise)

I believe everyone can integrate multiple one-minute excercise sessions into their day. Read on.(Photo by @beachbumledford via Twenty20)

When people comment about not getting enough exercise, they usually say they can’t develop a good exercise routine1 because they don’t have enough time. I can sympathize with this to some degree since people today are indeed busy, rushing here and there with a long list of appointments and tasks to accomplish.

However, I believe that they do have time, but they simply have misconceptions about what exercise needs to be. Exercise2 does not need to involve a trip to a gym or an exercise class. And, it does not have to take up a lot of time. Instead, it can be spread over your day, completed in short, one-minute bursts.

 Do You Suffer from Being Sedentary Too?

According to the World Health Organization, more and more people, up to 85% of the world’s population, are sitting more and moving less. In a recent report, they commented:

“Sedentary lifestyles increase all causes of mortality, doubles the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity, and increase the risks of colon cancer, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, lipid disorders, depression, and anxiety.”3

Research into hunter-gatherer societies shows that the human body is designed to spend the day in motion,4 but that’s not what is happening anymore in our modern industrial society.

Erin Donnelly Michos, MD, writing for the John Hopkins Medicine website, calls this “sitting disease,” and comments that even fitness buffs can experience these problems if they spend a lot of time sitting at work.

She noticed how she was sitting way too much, even though she was running 4-5 hours every morning: “I have a long commute, so I was spending two hours in my car. On days I’m not doing rounds, I’m doing research or teaching, so I might be sitting at my computer for eight hours. I was easily sitting more than 10 hours a day.”

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Knowing how bad this was for her health, she has started making a point of getting up and moving at least once an hour.5

Related Content: Rethinking Exercise to Counter the Epidemic of Physical Inactivity

 How I Changed My Own Habits – The One-Minute Exercise Program

Like Dr. Michos, I noticed I was spending too much time sitting. Instead of doing physical exercise, I was reading reports, meeting with people, and preparing lectures. As a black belt in various forms of martial arts and as the founder of Body & Brain Yoga, I had always been an active, energetic person, but now that was changing. Realizing that my physical condition was declining as a result of my sedentary behavior, I resolved to move my body at least once an hour.

I started by doing whatever came into my mind wherever I happened to be. If I got up to use the restroom, I would stop for a minute to do pushups on the wall. If I was sitting at my desk, I would use my arms to push my body weight up off the chair. Other times, I would do a “bear walk” on the floor where I would walk on all fours across the room.

Even though I was doing each exercise for only about a minute, I immediately noticed a big change. Suddenly, I no longer felt sluggish and heavy. Also, my willpower and motivation to get my work done increased.

These little bursts of exercise were getting my energy flowing.I began to feel like my old self again.  This powerful personal experience led me to develop a one-minute exercise program.

Related Content: Want to Make Fitness a Lasting Habit? 5 Strategies That Will Help

 The Heart Health of Hunter-Gatherers 

Research has shown that more than ten hours a day sitting has especially dramatic negative effects on human health, especially cardiovascular health.7 In a study published in the American Journal of Human Biology, researchers monitored the heart health of hunter-gather indigenous people as they assumed a much more sedentary lifestyle.

Normally, these people walk many miles a day in search of food and other necessities. Their heart health is generally excellent—heart attacks, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, and the like are practically nonexistent. During the study, they were asked to be much more inactive, exercising only two hours a day. Immediately, the subjects’ heart health declined dramatically as a result.8

Yet, we can’t go back to this style of life, so what are we to do? Many of us must spend long hours in front of a computer screen and commuting to work. Even if we manage to get to the gym for an hour each weekday, or if we go on long hikes on the weekend, it is still not enough.

One-Minute Exercise, Ten Times a Day

My recommendation is to set your alarm on your phone to chime once an hour to remind you to move. Make the goal only one minute so you can’t say, “But I don’t have time right now!” You can spare a minute, and if you do a little more than that—wonderful!

Using your large muscles and getting your heart rate up is especially important. Here are some suggestions for things you can do in the office or on your commute:

  • While sitting in a chair (or even in the car seat), tense your thigh and buttock muscles repeatedly, as quickly as you can for one full minute.
  • Hold a heavy book in each hand and use them like mini barbells.
  • Stand up and do as many push-ups on the wall as you can in one minute.
  • Go outside and take a brisk walk around your building.
  • Steadying yourself with one hand on your desk or a wall, do as many half-squats as you can, bending the knees about ninety degrees.
  • Stand up and move all the major joints of your body in circles.
  • Park on the far side of the parking lot when you go to work or to the shopping center.
  • Jog in place for a minute or more.
  • Do some jumping jacks.
  • Turn on some music and dance your heart out for the length of one upbeat song.
  • Stretch your whole body, especially the hamstrings and back.
  • Bounce on your toes for at least a full minute.

 Changing Your Life One-Minute Exercise at a Time

I love one-minute exercise because it makes changes in the way that they most often happen—one little bit at a time. If you start to do one-minute exercise, you’ll be surprised how much better you feel if you have been stuck in a sedentary lifestyle for a while. And I hope it will be an inspiration for the rest of your life, too, if there are any other goals9 you would like to achieve or any habits you would like to change. 


  1. Janet Huehls, MS CWHS.  Rethinking Exercise to Counter the Epidemic of Physical Inactivity, The Doctor Weighs In, Oct 2019   httpss://
  2. Ilchi Lee.  These 8 Life-Changing Tips Will Help You Age Well, The Doctor Weighs In, Aug 2020  httpss://
  3. World Health Organization. Physical inactivity a leading cause of disease and disability, warns WHO. Departmental News. Published online April 4, 2002. Accessed April 9, 2021. httpss://,lipid%20disorders%2C%20depression%20and%20anxiety
  4. Raichlen DA, Pontzer H, Harris JA, Mabulla AZP, Marlowe FW, Snodgrass JJ, Eick G, Berbesque JC, Sancilio A, Wood BM. Physical activity patterns and biomarkers of cardiovascular disease risk in hunter-gatherers. Am J Hum Biol. 2017 Mar;29(2)). doi: 10.1002/ajhb.22919. Epub 2016 Oct 9. PMID: 27723159. httpss://
  5. Michos ED. Sitting disease: How a sedentary lifestyle affects heart health. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed April 9, 2021. httpss://
  6. Pandey A, Salahuddin U, Garg S, Ayers C, Kulinski J, Anand V, Mayo H, Kumbhani D, de Lemos J, Berry J. Continuous dose-response association between sedentary time and risk for cardiovascular disease: A meta-analysis. JAMA Cardiol. 2016;1(5):575-83. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2016.1567. httpss:// 
  7. Raichlen DA, Pontzer H, Harris JA, Mabulla AZP, Marlowe FW, Snodgrass JJ, Eick G, Berbesque JC, Sancilio A, Wood BM. Physical activity patterns and biomarkers of cardiovascular disease risk in hunter-gatherers. Am J Hum Biol. 2017 Mar;29(2)). doi: 10.1002/ajhb.22919. Epub 2016 Oct 9. PMID: 27723159. httpss://
  8. Raichlen DA, Pontzer H, Harris JA, Mabulla AZP, Marlowe FW, Snodgrass JJ, Eick G, Berbesque JC, Sancilio A, Wood BM. Physical activity patterns and biomarkers of cardiovascular disease risk in hunter-gatherers. Am J Hum Biol. 2017 Mar;29(2)). doi: 10.1002/ajhb.22919. Epub 2016 Oct 9. PMID: 27723159.
  9.  Ilchi Lee.  5 Ways to Nurture Your Emotional Health in Later Life. The Doctor Weighs In, March 2021  httpss://

Financial Disclosure: Contents of this post are related to, but not quoted from, Ilchi Lee’s book, I’ve Decided to Live 120 Years: The Ancient Secret to Longevity, Vitality, and Life Transformation***.

Ilchi Lee


Ilchi Lee is a visionary, educator, and a New York Times bestselling author. He has penned more than 40 books including his most recent title, Water Up Fire Down. He founded the mind-body practices of Body & Brain Yoga and Brain Education and established the Earth Citizen Movement.

He also founded the accredited University of Brain Education and Global Cyber University in South Korea, as well as the non-profit International Brain Education Association (IBREA) in New York, which has special consultative status with the United Nations.

In addition to his study of traditional Asian medicine, Lee has a bachelor’s degree in clinical pathology from Dankook University in his native South Korea. He currently spends much of his time developing a sustainable-living retreat center in New Zealand.


  • I used to take a break every once in a while when I got tired, even sleepy. But didn’t think of doing it on a regular basis. So when I read that you used your arms to lift yourself off the chair I immediately tried it. And sure enough: it made me feel invigorated after doing 3 reps of that exercise. I wonder if stretching would give you the cardiac benefits to counter the prolonged sitting. I am designing my own set of 1-minute exercises, some of which you suggested, such as jumping jacks, half squats, pushups, etc. Great post. Thanks.

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