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Is Twenty Minutes of Yoga Enough to Stay Healthy?

May 21, 2024

What should you do if you only have 20 minutes?

What is the ideal length of time for you to practice? From my own interviews with people and scouring comments on social media, most people are looking for something they can do in 20 minutes. But is 20 minutes of yoga enough to stay healthy? If this sounds familiar and you want to make the best use of your 20 minutes, what should you do?


Is 20 Minutes Really Enough

The Center for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of intense aerobic activity every week plus two days of resistance training. That’s a bare minimum for a baseline level of health. Using that as a guideline we can come up with a twenty minute a day program that barely manages to meet those requirements...just barely.


Aerobic Exercise

Continuing to follow the CDC recommendations, if you can’t find the time for 150 of moderate aerobic exercise, 75 minutes of intense aerobic exercise is a good substitute. If you only have 20 minutes a day, that means dedicating four days a week to intense cardio. Intense cardio is working at about 80% of your maximum. A good test is trying to talk. If you can only get a couple words out before needing to take another breath, that’s where you want to be. The good news is that you don’t HAVE to run if you really hate it. Cycling, elliptical machines, swimming, rowing, jumping rope are all options. Even walking quickly might qualify if it leaves you too winded to form a complete sentence.


Resistance Training

Fitting in effective resistance training for the whole body into three 20 minute sessions can be done. Since at least 5-10 of those 20 minutes will be needed for warming up it’s even less than that. Forget the flowing vinyasa sequences, in order to produce an adaptation response, muscles need to be worked until near exhaustion. The most efficient way to do that is to repeat a few compound movements on a circuit. Moving from one movement to the next without pause cuts down on the down time you need to rest.

I recommend something like this:

Warm-up 5-10 minutes Sun Salutation 

  • 1 Leg Exercise till near failure (squats, lunges, bridge etc)
  • 1 Pushing Exercise till near failure (push-up, dips, downward dog push-ups etc)
  • 1 Pulling Exercise till near failure (pull-ups, rows, hinges etc)


The problems

While I was in college, some friends and I tried the Uberman sleep schedule, only sleeping 20 minutes every 6 hours. It might work in theory, but there is a big difference between ‘technically meeting all the requirements’ and ‘an enjoyable way to live’. Trying to get all the exercise you need in twenty minutes a day is like that. It might look doable on paper, but there are some glaringly impractical problems. For one, nobody just puts on their shoes and goes for a sprint. If you’re going to do twenty minutes of intense cardio you should warm up first. So already we’re realistically looking at thirty minutes of cardio in total. And while we have trained all the major muscle groups, 20 minute circuit training sessions doing the same fundamental movements will quickly become old. All in all, squeezing all of your exercise into twenty minutes a day is hard, boring and an invitation to injury.


If you’re trying to take better care of your health, sneaking in 20 minutes of exercise when you can find the time is not the way. If you only have 20 minutes to exercise then it's not a priority in your life. It's easier to stay consistent when you set aside an hour in your schedule than when you 'do a bit if you can.'  You’ll find that your program is EASIER and more ENJOYABLE if you give yourself more time. You don’t have to sprint. You have the time to learn new skills. Movement is supposed to be satisfying, not a punishment or something you have to ‘get through’.

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