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Just 1 minute of squats can boost concentration & improve decision-making

If you're stuck in a midday slump, hitting a quick round of squats may help shake off the brain fog, new research suggests.

Taking a break for a quick set of squats during the work day may help you stay focused, according to science. Maybe don't try it during a meeting, though.RealPeopleGroup/Getty Images

Working a desk job and other sedentary lifestyle habits are a known health hazard, contributing to higher risk of illnesses like cancer, heart disease, and cognitive decline.

But a growing body of research indicates that short exercise breaks can help offset the harm, both for your mind and your body.

Taking a minute (literally) to rep out some squats is linked to better blood flow to the brain, and better concentration and decision-making power, according to a small study published November 9 in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Researchers from Japan, North Carolina, and the UK studied a group of 20 young adults, averaging around 21 years old, as they completed mental tests after sitting for long periods of time. In one experiment, the participants sat for three hours uninterrupted before completing the tests, while in the other, they broke up their seated time with one-minute sessions of squat exercise combined with calf raises, for about 15 reps.

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The researchers found that when participants took the exercise breaks, they had better executive function as well as faster reaction times. They also self-reported better concentration and less mental fatigue than when they sat without breaks. Measuring blood flow to the brain during the experiments, researchers found participants saw a decrease when they were fully sedentary, compared to a slight increase when they did the short exercises.

The catch (because of course there is one) is that it wasn't a one-and-done solution, since the participants repeated the exercise every 20 minutes — not the most convenient if you're sitting down for meetings or other work-related tasks.

Still, the findings add to previous research that micro-workouts help you to stay fit and healthy even if you're sitting a lot, and provide a good excuse to step away from your desk for productivity's sake, if only for a minute.

Better brain power isn't the only benefit from small doses of exercise, as several previous studies have found major improvements to health, fitness, and lifespan from breaking up your day with movement.

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One 2023 study found that short bursts of activity, such as a brisk walk, bike ride or dance break, could significantly reduce the risk of early death in as little as 11 minutes total per day.

And low-impact exercises such as wall sits have been found to reduce blood pressure in a few minutes per day, too.

If you're new to incorporating tiny workouts into your routine, one strategy is known as "trigger workouts," using a cue such as a household object or even a timer to remind you to move. For example, you might opt to do a set of push-ups each time you fill your coffee mug or water bottle, or hit a set of squats each time you get up to use the bathroom.

A quick walk is another simple way to get more exercise, and every little bit, starting with just 500 steps a day, can add up toward a longer, healthier life.

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