Just 60 seconds of intense exercise can boost your fitness level, study finds
New Canadian research highlights benefits of short-but-intense interval training, compared to traditional exercise
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Busy people, listen up: What if you could push yourself to the max for just one minute and reap the benefits of a longer gym session?
That’s the finding of a new Canadian study, which shows doing just 60 seconds of intense sprint intervals offers the same health benefits as 45 minutes of less-strenuous continuous exercise — further reinforcing the benefits of trendy high-intensity interval training, or HIIT.
The 12-week McMaster University study focused on two groups of inactive men, with one group doing sprint interval training and the other doing continuous workouts. Both groups improved their peak oxygen uptake — a key measure of cardiovascular fitness and aerobic power — by nearly 20 per cent, “even though one group did fivefold less exercise with a fivefold lower time commitment,” says senior author Martin Gibala, professor and chair of McMaster’s department of kinesiology.
Both groups of men trained on bicycles three times a week for the course of the study. The interval-based group had a time commitment of 10 minutes for each session, broken into a two-minute warm-up, a 20-second burst, a two-minute recovery, another 20-second burst, another two-minute recovery, a final 20-second burst, followed by a three-minute cool-down.
Those three 20-second bursts totalled just one minute of intense exercise, while the recovery, warm-up, and cool-down periods were all at a gentle pace.
In contrast, the second group had a time commitment of 50 minutes of continuous exercise for each session, which included a 45-minute workout plus warm-up and cool-down time at the beginning and end.
That means a big difference in time commitment over a week: Just 30 minutes of exercise for the interval group and 150 minutes of exercise for the others. (There was a control group as well.)
The study was on the small side — just 25 participants — and didn’t involve women, although Gibala says his team is working on parallel female research. Still, he says it’s one of his most comprehensive studies to date, and innovative in its head-to-head comparison between small-dose sprint training and the traditional approach.
Jonathan Little, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia Okanagan’s school of health and exercise science, praised the McMaster study, saying it’s surpassing previous research. “No studies before have really looked at this very low time-efficient strategy for anything longer than six weeks,” he says.
Toronto-based personal trainer and fitness writer Kathleen Trotter is an advocate of HIIT, saying it’s both “efficient and effective,” but adds people need to find a fitness routine that works for their lifestyle. An average runner might benefit from intervals in a different way from someone trying to build up their endurance for a marathon, she says.
Research studies focusing on HIIT usually require subjects to go at an all-out pace, which is very intense and uncomfortable, notes Vancouver-based fitness instructor Amanda Vogel. “The average person doesn’t want to, or can’t tolerate, exercise at that high of an intensity even if it’s for a short time.”
Intervals can also be harder on your body, Trotter says, and should be part of a comprehensive workout plan including warm-up and recovery time. “Just because interval training is wonderful doesn’t mean you don’t need strength training, you don’t need stretching,” she adds.
Even so, this latest interval training study is good news for the most time-strapped among us.
“A lot of people think, if I don’t have 45 minutes in my day, I can’t get a quality workout in,” Gibala says. “But this is a reminder that even if you have 10 minutes in your day — on your lunch hour — you can get in a quality workout with intense exercise.”
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