Your midday activities can make or break your energy levels for the rest of the day. While many things can help give you an energy boost, not all of them are lasting (talking to you, 2 p.m. espresso). On days when you want to spend your midday break well, a quick sweat sesh can go a long way when it comes to improving your energy, focus levels, and mood.
Take it from Lauren Munsch Dal Farra, MD, a cardiologist and the CEO of PALM Health. As a busy CEO and doctor, she knows how hard it can be to fit exercise into a packed schedule, which is why she's a fan of HIIT workouts. She says if you can fit them into your lunch hour, you'll ride those energy and mood-enhancing effects for the rest of the day.
"Integrating the shorter anaerobic workouts into my lunch hour a few times a week is really effective for me," says Dr. Munsch Del Farra. Keep reading for more details on why Dr. Munsch Del Farra's go-to midday workout of choice is HIIT and how exercise can refill your energy levels.
Why HIIT workouts are ideal for a lunchtime sweat
"Midday workouts are a great way to incorporate HIIT training into your day because they're shorter workouts," Dr. Munsch Del Farra says. "They're 20 to 30 minute workouts where you're going 30 seconds on 30 seconds off or 20 seconds on 10 seconds off. You are exerting to your maximum capacity and then resting." When it comes to HIIT workouts, short is good (and just 20 minutes can be better than longer classes). And if you're looking for a workout that gives you the most for your precious time, HIIT is it.
Dr. Munsch Del Farra swears by HIIT or Tabata workouts to get the most out of a midday sweat when she's back-to-back with meetings and patients. "I try to do a HIIT workout or a Tabata workout at least three times a week," she says. In those HIIT workouts, her goal is to work 80 to 90 percent of her max heart rate zone for about 20-30 minutes (aka anaerobic training).
HIIT workouts increase energy
When you talk about feeling tired, sluggish, or blah, what does that actually mean for your body from a scientific perspective? "Exercise helps boost our circulation of oxygen," says Dr. Munsch Del Farra. "That's what the mitochondria, which are like the energy houses of our cells, [use as] currency. That allows our body to overall function better and use energy more efficiently." More oxygen equals better-functioning cells, which means more energy, focus, and clarity throughout the day. Sounds like a win.
HIIT workouts improve focus, boost mood, and reduce anxiety
If moving your body helps you feel less anxious, there's a reason: Exercise helps boost the "feel-good" hormones serotonin and dopamine. "Morning and midday workouts help boost your metabolism, increase your energy levels for the whole day, and increase your dopamine and serotonin, which can improve your mood and decrease anxiety for the day," says Dr. Munsch Del Farra.
And if you typically rely on a second or third coffee to get you through the afternoon, Dr. Munsch Del Farra notes that exercise is a much more sustainable boost than a Blue Bottle run. "Caffeine is more of a stimulant; it connects to certain receptors in the brain that increase brain activity," she says. "But it doesn't have all the other benefits that exercise does—like increasing your circulation, increasing circulating oxygen, burning fat, lowering your blood pressure, and increasing your metabolism long-term."
HIIT workouts fit into busy schedules
HIIT workouts are some of the best midday workouts since they're easy to fit in (even if you do have to dash somewhere right after). Ultimately, Dr. Munsch Del Farra says the most important thing is not when you exercise, but if you exercise. What works for you may not work for someone else, but the key is figuring out when you will actually want to exercise—and stick with that. "If you have a job that has some flexibility around your work hours and you can take an hour to take a break overall, it's a good way to reset and help manage stress," she says. Just one more reason to carve out some space in your Calendar app.
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