Why Working Out for Just 30 Minutes Will Make You Happier

You’ve heard it before: Regular exercise can do wonders for both your body and mind.

On paper, working out regularly sounds like a fantastic idea. You’ll look better and feel better; you’ll become a new person. But life gets in the way — job, family, sleep, etc. Suddenly, you just don’t have time because you have priorities far more important than trekking to the gym.

For those of you short on time, here’s some motivation: It only takes 30 minutes of exercise to induce the benefits of a workout. And for a little extra motivation, those 30 minutes will have a positive impact on the rest of your day.

Not yet ready to move priorities around? Let me explain.

The Value of a 30-Minute Workout 

A lot of people mistakenly think that in order to get the full benefits of working out, they must spend hours sweating it out at the gym — not true.

New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Reynolds wrote a book on the matter entitled “The First 20 Minutes.” The book explains that the highest level of health benefits come in the first 20 minutes of physical activity because that’s when the brain reacts to trigger important health benefits — benefits that help you work toward a more productive and energetic day.

Specifically, the benefits of a 30-minute workout include:

An increase in productivity: The more you exercise, the more your body will produce ATP, a chemical your body uses as energy. This increase in energy will result in a boost to your overall energy level, mental output, and productivity throughout the day.

An increase in happiness: It only takes 20 minutes for the brain to produce endorphins, which cause that exercise-induced rush of happiness. In addition to endorphins, working out also triggers neurotransmitters, such as dopamine — the “feel good,” mood-boosting chemical.

Enhanced immunity to stress: Within 20 minutes of exercise, the brain has also recognized your increased heart rate as stress. To protect itself, the brain releases a protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which protects you from current and future stress.

A reduced risk of depression: Recent studies show that exercise can be used to reduce depression. This is partially due to the BDNF protein, which not only protects the brain from stress, but also from emotional disorders, such as depression.

As you can see, all of these benefits begin to tie together — happier people are often more productive, people who aren’t easily susceptible to stress are less likely to be depressed, etc. Other benefits that tie into exercising regularly include:

  • Boosted sleep quality.
  • An improved sex life.
  • A reduced risk of disease.
  • Prolonged life.
  • Improved weight control and body image.

Tricks for Fitting a Small Workout into a Busy Schedule

Even after knowing the benefits of a quick workout, it still takes a good amount of dedication and self-discipline to develop a regular workout routine. Here are a few tricks to get yourself into that routine:

  • Don’t overthink your workout: Oftentimes, people get overwhelmed trying to plan their workouts and end up spending more time and energy planning than exercising. Avoid this by starting simply and going for a quick run. Another option is to let someone do the thinking for you at a fitness class.
  • Cut down the commute: Instead of wasting valuable time booking it to the gym, get workout equipment for your house. You’ll spend the time you would be commuting actually working out.
  • Hold yourself accountable: It’s rare for busy professionals to miss an appointment, yet when it comes to exercise, flaking out is no biggie. Treat your workout like an important appointment. Even up the ante by making appointments with friends or hiring a personal trainer.
  • Put your workout clothes next to your alarm clock before bed: If you wake up to your gym clothes staring at you, begging you to work out, it’s a lot harder to find an excuse to skip.

The Busier You Are, the More Important Exercise Is

If you’re a member of the overworked and overwhelmed, these benefits are especially valuable to your daily grind. Think about it: Reduced stress and improved productivity are almost tailored to those of us who have a lot to do every day and not enough time to do it.

It may seem like you don’t have time to exercise, but think about it this way: The 30 minutes you take out of your day to exercise are always given back to you in increased energy and brain function. In the long run, those 30 minutes will save you time while simultaneously improving your mood.

With those kinds of benefits, life has run out of excuses to make you miss your workout.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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