Want To Run A 10K? All You Need Is One Minute A Day!

I've written before that a good approach to getting in shape - or getting in better shape - is to make small changes on the margin. You might not be able to go from a point of no-exercise to training for your first marathon overnight. In fact, if you tried that, you'd probably hurt yourself. (Please, don't try it.) Instead, you'll probably find more success by starting wherever you are on the fitness continuum and making a small change for the better.

Let's assume you do not exercise at all, and you eat cheeseburgers every day, but you dream of one day running a 10K road race. Unless you're on some kind of specific timeline for getting this done, you have the flexibility of taking things at a pace that feels right to you. You might be too overweight to start running tomorrow, and you certainly can't do anything like fartlek training.

In this case, your best bet might be to just lay off the cheeseburgers for a week. It's not training for a race, but it sure is a lot easier than a ten-mile run. But I'll make it even easier for you: Let's say you're addicted to cheeseburgers. In that case, swap 5 cheeseburgers per week for Caesar salads. You're not on your way to becoming the next Ms./Mr. Universe, but you're still better off.

Next, you can try going for a daily walk. Let's assume you're incredibly lazy, so I'll start you off at 1 minute. Your job this week is to walk for one minute every single day. That's easy. Anybody can do that, even you. You think it's a stupid idea, but you'll do it just to prove to me how stupid it is. So for a week, you get 1 minute of cardiovascular exercise per day. Guess what: Now I've got you exercising daily.

The next thing you might try is increasing your daily walk by one minute per day. It was one minute all last week, but next Monday, it's 2 minutes. Tuesday, it's 3 minutes. Wednesday, it's 4 minutes. By the end of the month, you're getting 30 minutes of daily cardiovascular exercise, and you're eating 5 fewer cheeseburgers per week.

If you had tried to make that kind of change overnight, you probably wouldn't have succeeded. But look how easy it is when you make a series of changes on the margin.

Now that you're exercising 30 minutes per day, I'm going to suggest that you jog the first minute of every workout. Do that for a whole week and now I've got you running every day. See how this works? We repeat the same process again: Next week, I'll have you swap out 1 minute of walking and add an additional minute of running. Monday is 2 minutes of running + 28 minutes of walking. Tuesday is 3 minutes of running + 27 minutes of walking. And so on.

If you do the math and follow the logic, you'll be running 30 minutes per day after just two and a half months. And all you had to commit to is a one-minute daily change in your lifestyle.

A final word of caution: Marginal changes only work if you stick to what you've changed. If you follow this process for two weeks, then go on a week-long pizza binge in a hotel room in Mazatlan, then try to pick up where you left off, you're sunk. That's when things get difficult again. That's when it starts to be more like making a drastic change all at once.

Instead, I'm recommending that you change your lifestyle one minute at a time. It's easy, it's do-able, it involves constant, daily success stories, and it really does work.