I cannot really remember the first time I set out to deliberately exercise, in order to get fit, but it must have been some time in high school, because that’s when I found myself preparing to go on my first hike.
Back then, the conventional wisdom about engaging in exercise was that you needed to put in some significant amount of time regularly for the exercise to be of any benefit; at least an hour, but if you could hit two hours, well and good. As far I still know, this is still the guiding principle for many people.
But I am not writing this piece to regale you with tales from the past, I write this because a couple of researchers are threatening my long held principles, suggesting that brief, intense durations of exercise can be better than those long hauls.
Less can be more, according to these fitness scientists who are keen to cut down exercise time to minutes, a whole new level of fitness minimalism.
The results of a research recently published in The American Journal of Health Promotion suggest that short bursts of regular intense exercise is all you need to achieve that elusive weight loss.
How The Study Was Conducted
A team of researchers from the University of Utah performed a secondary data analysis on more than 4000 adults aged between 18 and 64, and found that, insofar as weight loss is concerned, the intensity of exercise, no matter how brief, is what matters. The duration of exercise was hardly a factor, and it was apparent to researchers that drawn out periods of intense exercise and brief stretches of the same both had similar effects on weight loss.
The research, conducted between 2003 and 2006, saw 2309 men and 2202 women participate. The participants were randomly drawn from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a Center for Diseases program that came into existence in the 60s, and has since then been gathering health statistics for America.
The participants were fitted with accelerometers that measured levels of activity in counts per minute (cpm). They were then split into four groups, differentiated on account of the intensity and duration of physical exertion. The categories were: low-intensity short bouts, low-intensity long bouts, high-intensity short bouts and high-intensity long bouts. A low intensity activity generated an accelerometer reading equal to or less than 2,019 cpm, while high intensity activities resulted in readings equal to or above 2020 cpm. An activity was deemed short if it lasted less than 10 minutes, and long if it lasted more than 10 minutes.
Dropping BMI Every Minute!
The Body Mass Index (BMI) was used to gauge whether the exercises had had any effect on the participant. The BMI is a standard formula that is used to determine whether a person’s weight is within healthy limits. The value is obtained by dividing the weight by a square of the height (in meters), and values between 18.5 and 24.9 are considered normal, while between 25 and 29.9 is overweight; beyond 30 indicates obesity.
The results showed that for each minute spent in a higher-intensity activity, a person reduced her/his BMI by 0.07, which is equivalent to losing 0.41lbs (186gms). The results also suggested that each additional minute of strenuous activity reduced the probability of becoming obese; for women, this was lowered by 5%, while men had a 2% lesser chance of becoming obese with every minute of strenuous exercise.
Previous Study Back These Findings
These findings are corroborated by previous studies by a team from Loughborough University; after 10 clinical trials, the team was convinced that their High Interval Training (HIT) was much more effective than conventional exercise in helping a person get fit and/or lose weight. It also reduced the risk of developing diabetes. HIT involves 3 bursts of 20 seconds of intense exercise, with 2 minute breaks in between. According to Prof. Timmons, the creator of the exercise regime, all one needs is a cumulative of 3 minutes of intense exercise a week to get fit.
The study had shown that such intense exercises activate 80% of muscles, compared to 40% that are activated when engaging on conventional/ low intensity exercises. This is probably the reason why they produce better results as far as weight loss and fitness are concerned.
The beauty of these findings is that no longer can anyone say they don’t have time to exercise, and taking the stairs instead of the lift, sprinting on your bike for a minute or so, or going on a 10 second sprint (6 times) could be all you need to lose weight/get in shape.