Regular exercise is an effective means for preventing and treating many chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiorespiratory illnesses and bone loss. Exercise also causes growth of healthier muscles. However, current physical activity guidelines that recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week are difficult for many of us to accomplish.
We also know that low amounts of physical activity increases the risk of many chronic diseases. Therefore, discovering that short periods of exercise has similar effects as long, arduous routines is literally a breath of fresh air.
Sprint interval training (SIT), as opposed to longer endurance type training, is characterized by brief intermittent bursts of relatively intense exercise separated by periods of low-intensity exercise for recovery. The easiest way to accomplish this type of SIT exercise is on a stationary bike, but one could also do this in a pool or in any setting that one can perform brief periods of rapid and intense movement, followed by slower paced recovery periods. Studies that have directly compared several weeks of SIT to moderate-intensity continuous training and have repeatedly shown similar improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness, skeletal muscle capacity and insulin sensitivity based on oral glucose tolerance tests.
This recent study (1), however, showed those types of benefits with just one minute of intense exercise in a 10 minute total session which included two minutes of slower, more moderate paced movements before, after and in between three 20 second bursts of exercise. This is the lowest amount of SIT (10 min, 3x/wk) compared to endurance training (45 min, 3x/wk) I have seen and this study was higher quality than most others, yet after 12 weeks, showed almost identical benefits!
So the next time you tell yourself you don’t have time to exercise, just jump on your bike or in your pool or any way you can and move moderately for a couple of minutes followed by very fast (best you can) movements for 20 secs and repeat that three times for 10 minutes, including the cool down. It looks like this:
Two minutes of easy to moderate movement
20 seconds of fast-as-you-can movement
Two minutes moderate
20 seconds super fast
Two minutes again
20 seconds go for it
Final two minutes cooling down
That's it! Do that for a few months at three times per week and you will likely enjoy great benefits. If you are challenged and can’t move your legs that fast at first, start out slowly and build up. Or, you can do it with bicycle type movements of just your arms. Doing something is way better than none!