Scattered Workout: Why You Should Spread Out Your Exercise Throughout the Day

scattered exercise


Do you have trouble getting enough exercise? A “scattered workout” – where you spread out different exercises throughout your day – may be an easy and convenient approach to becoming a healthier and fitter person.


Do I have to get my daily exercise in all at once?

When most people think of exercise, they imagine going to the gym (or working out at home) 4-6 times per week for 1-2 hours at a time.

Committing yourself to a whole hour of exercise each day can seem challenging at first. Where will I find the time? How will I fit it into my schedule? I’m already low on energy and motivation, how will I be able to do an entire hour before giving up?

What if you could spread out your exercise into smaller chunks throughout the day?

Breaking up your exercise into “smaller chunks” can make things a lot easier. What if instead of exercising for 60 minutes once a day, you broke it down into 20 minutes three times per day or even 10 minutes six times per day?

Health professionals recommend about 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week (or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week). That can be spread out to about 20 minutes of exercise per day, which sounds a lot more realistic and manageable for the average person.

There are many ways you can spread out mini-exercises throughout your day.

As someone who has tried many different exercise routines that ultimately failed to stick, I’ve found that having a “scattered workout” has been the best way for me to commit to physical fitness on a daily basis (it may have something to do with how personality shapes exercise preferences – open-mindedness and a need for variety – but either way I’ve developed a system that works best for me).

I started with adding super small exercises into my day (stretching every morning, doing push-ups after lunch) and then slowly built more and more small habits into my daily routine.

Now I easily get between 45-60 minutes of exercise every single day, but often in chunks of only 5-10 minutes at a time. I’ll show you my “scattered workout” in a bit, but first let’s explore the potential benefits of this approach.


Potential Benefits of Scattered Workout

Aside from the motivational benefits of breaking down your workout into smaller and easier chunks, there may be some health and fitness benefits to this approach as well…

  • Minimize Prolonged Sitting – To start, the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle and sitting for extended periods of time have been well-documented. One recent study published in the Sport Sciences for Health found that even if you get the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week, prolonged sitting can still have a negative impact on your mental health. By practicing a more scattered workout, you can avoid these prolonged periods of sitting – even if it’s just getting up to walk around the office, or doing some push-ups in-between emails, or going outside for a nature walk during lunch.
  • Physical Activity Cocktail – New research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine tracked the physical activity of 130,000 adults throughout the United States, United Kingdom, and Sweden. They found that a physical activity “cocktail” that includes both moderate activity and light activity can be just as beneficial as exercising all at once. There is no “one size fits all” approach – if individuals find enough light activity throughout their day (walking, stretching, yoga, gardening, household chores, etc.) they can receive the same health benefits as those who get more intense exercise for a shorter period of time. Another study published in BMC Psychiatry suggests that more varied activity was associated with increased well-being.

Overall we probably shouldn’t think of exercise as something we do once per day and then we get to check it off our “to-do” list. It’s often better to integrate it and spread it out throughout our day.

Our evolutionary ancestors likely spent most of their days on their feet, walking around, gathering food, or hunting. They didn’t sit for 10+ hours at a time on their computers or in front of a TV and then get their one hour of workout in after dinner. Physical activity was an ongoing thing.

In my own approach to fitness and exercise, I try to do at least some light activity every hour just to keep my body moving and staying awake. Since most of my work is sitting at the computer, many of the microbreaks I spread out throughout my day include some type of physical activity.


My Scattered Workout Routine

Here’s a breakdown of what a typical day of exercise looks like for me.

This is a routine I’ve been building on for a couple years now – there’s nothing groundbreaking about it, but it’s helped me a lot. One thing I always remind myself is the “everything counts” mindset which has given me permission to do smaller bits of physical activity throughout the day.


Habits I count as “physical activity” throughout the day:

  • Walk dog – A good way for me to start the day is by going outside, getting some sun, and walking a bit. I only walk about a mile or less – I mostly do it for the dog – but I still give myself credit for it. I also have the coffee brewing so by the time I get back home it’s ready for me.
  • Pull up bar – Throughout the mornings I’ll typically start by hanging on my pull-up bar, stretching out my back, rolling my shoulders, and lifting my legs. I don’t do any actual pull-ups until later in the day, for now I just use it to warm myself up a bit.
  • Household chores – Chores can be a great source of light physical activity. Every morning I try to do at least one quick chore whether it be washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, collecting trash, or wiping down the kitchen counters. Not only does it get you on your feet, but you’re keeping your home clean and organized. In fact one new study shows that doing household chores is associated with greater brain health.
  • Hand grips – Hand grips are something I spread out throughout most of my day. I leave them by the computer so if I’m reading articles or answering emails I can still reach over and do a quick round of handgrip exercises. They function as a type of stress ball (I guess), but I also just think of them as a way to keep the blood and energy flowing. (Somehow I’ve broken 2 of these over the past year or so – not bragging, maybe I’m just channeling a lot of stress!)

  • Stretching – Stretching is essential. I’ve written before about my mindful stretching routine which I do before my daily shower every morning (a great way to build new habits is to link them with a habit you already do every day).
  • Jumping Jacks/Pushups/Crunches – One of the best things about exercise is you really don’t need anything except your body to be able to do it. Jumping jacks, push ups, crunches, and sit ups are all exercises you can sprinkle throughout your day – and you can do them virtually anywhere since they don’t require any equipment. I often do a round of push-ups after lunch and dinner and I frequently do a round of jumping jacks or crunches between work tasks.
  • Mace exercise – As the day progresses I’ll often increase the intensity of my exercises. The first real weight-based exercise I’ll do is with a mace bar. I decided to get one last year because I can do a lot of free movement type exercises with it (it was between this or kettle bells). I’ll often walk around holding it (it makes you focus a lot on your center of gravity), and then I’ll do a few sets of swinging it 360 behind my back in both directions (working out shoulders, arms, etc.) I still need to experiment more with different exercises, but you can find some good workouts if you search “mace exercises” on YouTube.

  • Pull-ups – The pull-up bars that you can install on your door are very easy to use and versatile. I have one setup on my way to the bathroom, so whenever I pass it I do at least a few pull-ups. You can workout a lot of different muscles in your arms, back, and shoulders depending on how you hold the bar (hands closer together or further apart, palms facing inwards or outwards, etc.) You can also work out your abs by lifting your legs (and twisting in different directions, but be careful). Overall, I get a lot out of it – it’s one of my single favorite pieces of fitness equipment.

  • Dumbbells – The only other equipment I have is a single dumbbell which I use to do various curls, lifts, and squats. You can get a lot out of these if you are willing to experiment and try different types of exercises. Again, you can search “dumbbell exercises” on YouTube for a lot of free demonstrations. I often do my dumbbell exercises after dinner, although I may also sprinkle in a little “in front of the TV” exercise if I’m watching sports in the evening.

This is my current workout, but it’s always evolving.

I won’t pretend this is a professional body builder’s workout or anything, but as someone who has always struggled with fitness, these exercises have been a life-changer for me. I’m definitely in better shape than I’ve ever been, and my energy levels are higher than ever.

It’s a very minimal workout: the only physical equipment I own is 1 dumbbell, 1 mace bar, 1 pull-up bar, and handgrips.

I also got a barbell recently, but I still need to get some free weights for it so I haven’t yet integrated it into my daily routine.

Hopefully reading through my “scattered workout” gave you some ideas to work with.

The most important thing is to find daily exercises that you can conveniently add to your daily routine. Then just keep building from there.

Before you know it, you start to think of yourself as a more fitness-oriented person.

Other options that come to mind:

  • Physically active video games such as Wii Fit, Dance Dance Revolution, etc.
  • Get a treadmill/peloton/bike or some equipment you enjoy that you can use on your free time.
  • Play with kids/pets outside. They often have more energy than us, so just trying to keep up is a workout.
  • Go for a walk around your block. Enjoy some nature. Say hi to the neighbors.
  • Any type of physical activity you enjoy doing that you can easily integrate into your routine.

If you’re someone that struggles with getting enough exercise, the scattered workout may be a great place to start improving this area of your life. Try it for yourself!


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The post Scattered Workout: Why You Should Spread Out Your Exercise Throughout the Day appeared first on The Emotion Machine.

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