For most people trying to start or maintain an exercise regimen, not having enough time to exercise is one of the biggest obstacles people cite for not sticking with it. However, a recent study may have just made that excuse moot. The study, believe it or not, found that one-minute of intense exercise could improve health and fitness just as much as 45 minutes of gentler exercise.
The study measured the cardiovascular fitness levels of 25 young, out-of-shape men, as well as their bodies’ ability to regulate blood sugar levels. The researchers also analyzed biopsies of the 25 participants’ muscles before and after the study to see how they changed on a cellular level.
The researchers divided the men into three groups: a non-exercising group, a group who completed 45 minutes of exercise on a stationary bike, and a group who performed interval training exercises (See here for more about interval training, or HIIT). Both of the exercising groups did three sessions per week for 12 weeks.
According to The New York Times, the interval training group’s exercise routine looked like this: “The volunteers warmed up for two minutes on stationary bicycles, then pedaled as hard as possible for 20 seconds; rode at a very slow pace for two minutes, sprinted all-out again for 20 seconds; recovered with slow riding for another two minutes; pedaled all-out for a final 20 seconds; then cooled down for three minutes.”
Although the entire workout lasted 10 minutes, only one minute of the workout was strenuous. The rest was spent recovering by cycling at a slow pace. Amazingly, at the end of the study, the health and fitness gains experienced by the two groups were almost identical. Both groups experienced greatly improved insulin resistance, a 20 percent increase in endurance levels, and a significant increase in muscular function. This means that the group who only did 36 minutes of intense exercise over three months experienced the same benefits as the group who did 27 hours of moderate exercise over the same time frame — pretty incredible!
Could it really be that easy?
The men who were studied were out of shape and either returning to exercise or complete newbies to it. This means that people who are already fit may not get the same benefits as the ones experienced by the men in the study. According to physiologist Martin Gibala PhD of McMaster University in Canada, who oversaw the study:
“If you are an elite athlete, then obviously incorporating both endurance and interval training into an overall program maximizes performance. But if you are someone, like me, who just wants to boost health and fitness and you don’t have 45 minutes or an hour to work out, our data shows that you can get big benefits from even a single minute of intense exercise.”
Also, it’s important to point out that just because the exercise regimen is short, doesn’t mean it was easy. HIIT workouts can be very, very intense. In fact, if you’re just returning to exercise, the intensity of routines like these could even lead to an injury, and getting injured isn’t exactly the best way to keep up your motivation and enthusiasm for exercise. So if you’re just starting or returning to exercise, make sure you do so under the guidance of a professional who can teach you to do interval training correctly and safely.
Beyond its incredible findings, the study is also a good reminder that even short stints of exercise come with benefits, and that you don’t need to set aside large chunks of time in order to get fit. For an example of a 10-minute HIIT routine you can do at home, check out this article.
Teresa is a freelance writer and yoga teacher currently living in Sri Lanka. She loves to write about policies, ideas, and practices that promote a healthy planet and create healthy people.