This Four-Minute Exercise Snack May Improve Strength and Balance Blood Sugar

written by JOSEY MURRAY
the four-minute workout"
the four-minute workout
Source: @girlfriend
Source: @girlfriend

After what felt like a lifetime of forcing myself to exercise for calorie burn, let me introduce you to a concept that improved my health, allowed me to move my body intuitively, and increased mobility, mental health, and strength: exercise snacks. “Exercise snacks” refer to quick bouts of exercise that are less than 10 minutes and require little to no equipment so you can easily fit them in throughout your day: in between meetings, while watching TV, or when you’re in an afternoon slump. I like to add in a few squats while brushing my teeth or doing 20 jumping jacks after clearing my inbox. The idea of exercise snacking is a far cry from the belief that “exercise” needs to be a 60-minute gym session. Instead, the idea is moving throughout your day to live less sedentarily and use exercise as a tool to boost mood or energy when you need it.

One exercise snack in particular has made a major difference in my health, and it only takes four minutes. Dr. Zach Bush, MD, a physician specializing in internal medicine and endocrinology, came up with The Four-Minute Workout, which he also calls a “nitric oxide dump” for its benefits (we’ll explain “nitric oxide” and why it’s so important below). The Four-Minute Workout (quite literally) gets my blood pumping, engages 16 different muscle groups, and can benefit everything from blood sugar levels to muscle growth. Here’s everything you need to know about Dr. Bush’s Four-Minute Workout: what it is, how to try it, and why you should do it, too.

What is The Four-Minute Workout?

The exercise snack consists of three sets of four movements:

  1. Squats: Form is key. Imagine trying to sit down in a chair, but don’t get held up by depth. Speed is more important for this exercise. If you’re doing it right, you should have to raise your arms in front of you to balance. Start with 10 reps per set.
  2. Alternating arm swings: Alternate raising each arm straight up in front of you, hitting a sharp 90 degrees. Do 20 total (10 for each arm).
  3. Arm circles: Think jumping jacks without the jumping, or like a breaststroke you would do while swimming. Touch your fists together at the top and bottom of the circle 10 times.
  4. Arm press: Think of a bicep press without the weights (yes, it does look a little like a “raise the roof” dance move). Do 10 reps and then repeat the set from the beginning.

The three sets should take approximately four minutes to complete, but prioritize moving with good form without resting in between rather than being “on time.” This workout is not meant to be intense cardio, so you don’t need to go as fast as you can, but if you finish three sets quickly and want more of a challenge, you can work up to 20 reps of each movement per set. You can experience benefits incorporating the workout anytime throughout your day or week, but Dr. Bush suggests going through these exercises three times a day with four hours in between to take advantage of the body’s ability to produce more nitric oxide during these specific time frames.

What are the benefits?

According to Dr. Bush, The Four-Minute Workout is beneficial for muscle growth, improved cardiovascular health, and helps regulate blood sugar for hours after your workout. The workout targets the 16 largest muscle groups for a specific amount of time, which increases the body’s production of nitric oxide. When muscles run out of oxygen, the body releases the molecule nitric oxide, which causes blood vessels to allow for more oxygen and nutrient delivery to the entire body. Over the next four hours after the workout, the body works to replenish nitric oxide, leading to better blood flow and nutrient delivery, which impacts functions such as blood sugar and muscular strength.

The Four Minute Workout is meant to be the shortest, easiest method for nitric oxide production, and Dr. Bush says you can feel the effects immediately: Your body may feel more relaxed, or your fingertips may even tingle due to the dilated blood vessels. Whether you love the science behind what a certain exercise is doing for your body or you just want to fit four more minutes of movement into your day, The Four Minute Workout is an easy, accessible exercise snack you can do anytime, anywhere.