How many minutes of exercise do you need

How many minutes of exercise do you need

Recent Canadian research shows that people who do all their weekly workout minutes in one session are no less healthy than those who spread it throughout the week. This ‘once a week’ option joins several other ‘less time, more gain’ types of exercise which aim to deliver maximum results in the minimum amount of time. Confused by all the different sorts? Here’s an up-to-date list of all your time-saving workout options.

150 minutes once a week

The official recommendation is still that people take 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderate to vigorous exercise per week to maintain good physical health. It is usually advised that this exercise is taken in several sessions of about 30 minutes spread throughout the week.

But the new Canadian study has demonstrated that how the minutes of exercise are split over the week doesn’t seem to make any difference to people’s risk of ‘metabolic syndrome’. This indicates a person’s risk factors for various conditions such as stroke, heart disease and diabetes. For example, the study demonstrated that someone who didn’t do anything physical from Monday to Saturday but was active for 150 minutes on Sunday had the same health benefits as someone who spread their activity over several days e.g. by doing 20 minutes each day.

Cramming all of your workout minutes into one session may be tempting for busy people. If you don’t have enough time for exercise during your working week it makes sense to ‘catch-up’ on your free days. Doing all your exercise on one day isn’t a completely new idea either. For example, the book ‘Power of Ten: The Once A Week Slow-Fitness Revolution’ follows the ‘slow burn’ idea that a substantial session of slow to moderate exercising such as very slow lifting of weights or marathon running, will achieve health and fitness even if performed relatively infrequently.  

However, although most moderately active people would be able to cope with this approach, too much exercise in one go may put undue strain on anyone not fit enough. For the completely inactive, sudden workouts would also be quite difficult, or actually dangerous.

Ninety minutes a week

High Intensity Interval Training is now widely acknowledged to be one of the best forms of cardio exercises to tone up, burn fat and increase fitness levels.  A more moderate form of intensity training, it describes any exercise which alternates between short, intense bouts of activity and longer rest periods, for example, running for 1 minute, then walking/jogging for 2 minutes.  The latest 2013 research by scientists at the Liverpool John Moores University recommends you do interval training for ninety minutes a week spread over three or four sessions.  This is enough to reap same health benefits as someone who exercises less moderately for 40 – 60 minutes 5 times a week.

Eight minutes a week

The ‘Tabata-style’ workout from Japan was developed in the 70s for Japanese Olympians. It is an intense 4-minute workout which experts advise you perform twice a week. Claimed to be more effective at fat burning and increasing aerobic capacity than 60 minutes in the gym, Tabata is a form of interval training which takes you through a series of 20 second activities alternated with 10 seconds of rest. Any simple move will suffice, for example, squats, jumping lunges, jumping rope and running on the spot. The key is that each 20 seconds should be performed with 100% effort.

Three minutes each week

The three minute workout is a form of High Intensity Training (HIT). Amidst ever-increasing scientific research, and popularised on television by Dr. Michael Mosley, these quick, tough workouts are designed to work you to your maximum for short bursts of time alternated with rest periods. For example, pedalling flat-out on a stationary bicycle for 30 seconds followed by 4 minutes of easy pedalling. The key is that the total bursts of exercise should amount to 3 minutes a week. For example, this could be achieved by doing 6 x 30 second bursts or 9 x 20 second bursts.

As they are designed to be performed 2 or 3 times a week, this workout option may be less enticing for people who’d prefer the ‘get-it-all-over-in-one-day’ approach.  

Also, concerns have been raised over the safety of sudden intense bursts of activity such as HIT. While most people can undertake extreme exercise like this, the recommendation is that anyone with a family history of sudden deaths from heart problems or strokes seek advice before participating.

However many minutes a week you choose to exercise, it’s clear that when it comes to exercise the ‘less is more’ approach is clearly here to stay. The most important way to reap its benefits is to ensure you choose an approach you enjoy so that it becomes a regular habit.  That’s the real way to add minutes to your life. 


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