No time to work out? Try exercising on the job

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Young people frequently say that they want to exercise, but they just can’t find the time.

The solution just might be in-office interval training. That means taking part in short bursts of intense exercise — while in the office. Recent studies show that very short but intense exercise rapidly builds and maintains fitness and health, even when the workout is only a few minutes long.

Work the stairs

You can complete an excellent, effective — and very brief — workout in an office stairwell, says Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Canada and an expert on interval training.

Stairwell interval training requires only one minute of strenuous exertion, he says.

For a study that he and his colleagues presented earlier this year, they asked 12 out-of-shape women in their 20s to warm up for two minutes by slowly walking up and down stairs in a campus office building. Then the women ran up the steps “as fast as safely possible,” Dr. Gibala says, for 20 seconds. They walked down and along a flat corridor for two minutes, ran back up the stairs for another 20 seconds, walked for two minutes, and ran up for a final 20 seconds. They then cooled down with three minutes of stair and corridor walking. The entire session lasted 10 minutes, which would easily fit into a lunch break. (If you do this, you may want to bring and change into workout clothing to avoid sweating in your work clothes and freshen up afterward with a bird bath in an office restroom.)

They completed three of these abbreviated stair workouts per week for six weeks. By the end, their aerobic fitness had improved substantially, the researchers reported, by about as much as if they had been running or cycling each week for hours.

(Related: What to know about really, really short workouts)

Lift weight at your desk

To change body shape, you almost certainly need to also perform some type of weight training, exercise scientists agree. As with the stair training, weight work can be done during your workday. Keep a five-pound dumbbell near your desk and perform arm curls while you are on the phone. Stand on the edge of a stair during a midmorning break and let your heels drop, then slowly rise up until you are standing on your tiptoes on the stairs. Repeat that exercise 10 times and you can strengthen and tighten muscles throughout your legs.

Fidget your way to fitness

Parents and teachers may once have urged you to sit still, but wiggling, tapping your toes, standing briefly, and otherwise fidgeting as much as possible at your desk is in fact good for your body. In one recent study, college students showed healthier blood flow in their lower legs if they fidgeted than if they did not. Even better, a 2008 study found that among office workers, those who frequently fidgeted burned as many as 300 calories more each day than those who resolutely stayed still.

Find seven minutes to exercise

For a fast, full-body weight-training and interval program, close your office door and cue up the Scientific 7-Minute Workout. The program targets muscles in the upper body, lower body and core, improves aerobic endurance, and can be completed in less time than most of us spend dithering about how to get to the gym.

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