Over the years, we’ve done a number of posts on this blog about how much exercise we (and our children) should be getting. The general consensus is at least 30 minutes every day (or a total of 150 minutes per week). Unfortunately, about 80% of us aren’t coming anywhere near that target. So, in what some might call an “if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-em” attitude, researchers are now investigating how little exercise we can get away with. The result? Well, it turns out that even just a few minutes of strenuous exercise a few times per week may actually have some benefits.
A few years ago, Martin Gibala and other researchers at McMaster University in Toronto published a study that suggested that a short stationary bike routine—30 seconds of all-out pedaling followed by 30 seconds of rest, repeated six times (for a total of three minutes of high-intensity exercise) produced nearly the same muscle benefits as a 90-minute to two-hour bike ride.
More recently, a number of researchers presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine. One team from Norway found that three 4-minute runs per week at 90% of the subject’s maximum heart rate (a pace that would leave you unable to speak while exercising), led to a 10% increase in endurance over 10 weeks. Another study compared a group of subjects that worked out for 19 minutes per week for 10 weeks with a group that did 40 minutes/week over the same period. Both groups increased their cardiovascular fitness and decreased their blood pressure and glucose levels. But only the 40-minute group saw any weight reduction or decrease in cholesterol.
Other studies have compared the effects of walking to running. Both groups lower cholesterol and blood pressure as well as diabetes and heart disease risk. In fact, the walkers actually enjoyed more benefits than the runners. But the runners did a better job of managing their weight than walkers.
At the end of the day (or even first thing in the morning or over lunch), exercise is good for us. Talk with your healthcare provider about the workout and intensity that are best for you. Then, whatever it is, make exercising a part of your regular routine. There is no magic pill. If you want to get the benefits of exercise, you’re going to have to put in some work.