Making time to exercise

Making time to exercise

Not having enough time to exercise is one of the biggest barriers to getting fit. Fortunately, we may not need as much time as we thought. Research into High Intensity Training indicates that just a few 30-second bursts here and there could make all the difference.

As a society, we're sleeping and working for far fewer hours out of every day than we were one hundred years ago. We have more leisure time and more time-saving gadgets than ever before. And yet it feels like we never have enough time for anything.

We certainly don't have enough time to exercise. Fewer than one in foud of us is fitting in the officially recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week. Even though our lives quite literally depend on it, we cannot seem to find even an hour or two a week to look after our fitness!

Fortunately, some of the latest exercise research indicates that we don't have to find lots of time to exercise. Short bursts of intense exercise have been found to be at least as effective (and sometimes more effective) as longer sessions in terms of improving fitness and helping with weight loss.

High Intensity Training in a nutshell

The basic idea of High Intensity Training (HIT) is to exercise as hard as you can for a very short period (30 seconds to 2 minutes is generally recommended), rest for a minute or two, and repeat. You only need to do this a few times to make exercise effective.

HIT is not new in itself – it has been around for some time. But the research to back up its effectiveness is relatively new. Here are a couple of examples:

  • In a study published in the Journal of Physiology in 2006, young men were asked to either sprint on an exercise bicycle for 30 seconds at a time with 4 minute rests in between, repeating this 4-6 times, or to cycle at moderate intensity for 90-120 minutes. They performed 6 exercise sessions over a two-week period, resulting in an average total of 2 ½ hours of exercise for the high intensity group and an average total of 10 ½ hours for the moderate intensity group. The two groups performed equally well on timed cycle trials, and physiological measures showed similar improvements in fitness levels.
  • A study published in 2009 in the British Journal of Endocrine Disorders showed similar results. A group of sedentary young men did a total of just 15 minutes of HIT over a two-week period and showed improvements in their metabolism, aerobic functioning and hormonal responses.

Limits of HIT

So far, the effectiveness of HIT has been demonstrated in terms of aerobic fitness and metabolism. It's less clear how effective HIT is in the areas of weight control and strength training.

Weight control

HIT appears to have an impact on insulin functioning, which is an important mechanism in weight control, but there is no comprehensive body of research to indicate that it is an effective aid to significant weight loss. However, studies do indicate that participants engaging in HIT (and remember, we're only talking a quarter of an hour over two weeks here!) burn an average of an extra 200 calories a day. That's only a couple of slices of bread, but it's an impressive result for a few 30-second bouts of exercise, and of course it all adds up over time.

Strength training

The effects of HIT have been investigated largely in the context of aerobic training rather than resistance workouts. It stands to reason that a similar paradigm could be applied to strength training – it's just that the research hasn't been done yet. But anyone who has spent time with free weights knows that it's often far more effective to do just a few repetitions with the heaviest weight you can manage than to do lots ot repetitions with a lighter weight.

Applying HIT to everyday life

So what does all of this mean for our busy everyday lives?

It means we're running out of excuses!

The basic HIT regime is simple to follow and takes very little time, so it's definitely worth a try. But if even that seems too much hassle, what about some creative adaptation of its basic principles? Every now and again, run up the stairs at full-tilt or dash to the bus stop as fast as you can. Jump up from your desk when no-one is looking and do star jumps – it only needs to be for half a minute! When you're going to the park with the kids, take just a moment to run around in circles like a maniac – they'll love it!

The greatest value of HIT is perhaps in changing our perception of effective exercise as something that takes hours and hours every week. Doing something for half an hour a day can feel totally unmanageable. Doing it for just a few minutes is a much less daunting prospect.


G O.
11 April 2013

G O.

Very interesting article. High Intensity Training is definetely what I need for my busy lifestyle. I will give it a go!

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