Fitness In 3 Minutes Per Week
High Intensity Training
According to scientists featured on the BBC2 programme Horizon short bursts of intense exercise may do as much for your fitness levels as much longer sessions spent in the gym. The radical time saving fitness regime featured in the programme suggests that a significant improvement in fitness levels can be achieved by three 20 second bursts of high intensity training three times per week.
The UK Government's current recommendation is that adults need either 150 mins of modest exercise or 75 mins of intense exercise per week to stay healthy. The scientists question this and say that individuals are very different in terms of their response to exercise and that one size does not fit all. It was in the course of their work that they developed their surprising theories about high intensity training.
Their findings overturn much of the accepted wisdom about exercise, so the answer to the question, 'How can I get fit?' may not be hours in the gym or on the road after all.
The benefits of high intensity training
BBC science presenter Michael Mosley met with the scientists at Nottingham University in the UK but similar research is underway in the United States and Canada. Professor James Timmins, a professor of ageing biology at Birmingham University, explained the science behind HIT, as the high intensity training programme is known.
High intensity interval training of this type impacts on two key measures of fitness: VO2 max and insulin sensitivity.
VO2 max is a measure of aerobic capacity; how well the heart and lungs are working to get oxygen into the blood. VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen the body is able to use.
Insulin sensitivity is the body's ability to remove sugar and reduce fat.
How it works
Insulin removes sugar from the blood reducing fat. The high intensity exercise sessions break down glycogen stored in the muscles. The muscles scream out to the bloodstream that it needs to take up more glucose. The bloodstream responds sucking up glucose that would otherwise be stored as fat. The intensity of the exercise is important because where walking or jogging you only activate 20-30% of your muscle tissue. A high intensity workout activates 70%-80% of muscle tissue.
The improvements to VO2 max occur because the intensity of the exercise forces deep breathing that is literally forcing air into the lungs. You are working your lungs much harder than a traditional LSD (Long Slow Distance) workout would.
Improvements to glycogen uptake should be seen within 2-3 weeks. Improved aerobic capacity takes a little longer, possibly six weeks.
What you do
You warm up for a few minutes, as you should for any exercise then it really is as simple as working out as intensely as you can for 20 secs, going gently for a minute or two until you get your breath back, repeating that twice more and doing the whole thing three times a week.
The scientists putting Michael Mosley through his paces had him on an exercise bike but you could equally well run on the spot or do any thing else that gets you breathing hard.
A word of caution
If you have a pre-existing health condition or are in any way concerned about the impact on your health consult a doctor before trying this.