Can 1-Minute Intervals Improve Your Health?

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Quite often, the question we are asked is: How can I fit in a good training run in my busy schedule? Runners may be happy to learn that a new study suggests that you might not need that long of a run afterall. In fact, running a brief set of solid 60 second intervals can do as much to improve your conditioning as three quarters of an hour worth of moderate exercise.

So, in other words, one minute of exercise (according to the researcher) was found comparable in its physical effects to 45 minutes of less-intense exercise. The attraction of this is obvious. As it shows that shorter exercise sessions can be a great option for those who may not have the time for a long more time-intensive run. In a mere twenty minutes I can get an awesome workout that improves my cardio conditioning, my leg strength and my aerobic capacity. I love this workout specifically because I can do it when I don't have enough time to get a longer run in. If you normally do four workouts every week, this could be one of your regular workouts. I wouldn't recommend doing this more than once a week. Remember, doing intense workouts is a good thing… when appropriate, and in the right measure. You would only do this workout twice in the same week IF there are no other options available.

The study I'm referring to began at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. They began by recruiting 25 out-of-shape young men and measuring their current aerobic fitness and, as a marking point of general health, their body’s ability to utilize insulin to properly regulate blood sugar levels. Next, the researchers randomly divided the men into three different groups.

One group was asked to keep their current, non-existent routines; they would serve as the controls. The second group began a typical endurance-workout, which consisted of riding a stationary bike for about 45 minutes, with two minute warm ups and three minute cool downs. The last group was assigned to an abbreviated workout. Specifically, they warmed up for two minutes, and then pedaled as hard as possible for 20 seconds, rode at a very slow pace for two minutes, then sprinted all out again for 20 seconds. The entire workout lasted 10 minutes, with only one full minute being strenuous.

So, this last group essentially did 3 x 20 sec. hard intervals followed by 2-minute rest breaks, which adds up to a grand total of 7 minutes. I would, of course, never do this workout without at least a 5-10 minute warm up and a 5-minute cool down. This brings the total workout to around 17 minutes.  What I'm suggesting for runners is to do 3-6 x 1-minute intervals followed by 1-minute jog breaks… a different theme, but the same idea. With jog breaks, warm ups and cool downs the total running workout time could range between 16 to 22 minutes.

Both of the groups completed three sessions for 12 weeks. By the end of the study, the endurance group had ridden 27 hours, while the interval group had ridden for six hours with only 36 minutes being strenuous. However, when the scientists retested the men’s aerobic fitness, muscles and blood-sugar control now, they found that the exercisers showed virtually identical gains, whether they had completed the long endurance workouts or the short, intense intervals.

In both groups, endurance had increased by almost 20 percent, insulin resistance also improved significantly. There were no changes in health or fitness evident in the control group. The upshot of this study is that three months of concerted short exercises can almost identically improve someone’s fitness and health. Neither approach was “superior” to the other, however one was just much shorter.

So, could this be a blessing for those of us who are slammed with daily responsibilities?

“It depends on who you are and why you exercise,” said Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University who oversaw the new study. He continues, “If you are an elite athlete, then obviously incorporating both endurance and interval training into an overall program maximizes performance. But if you are someone, like me, who just wants to boost health and fitness and you don’t have 45 minutes or an hour to work out, our data show that you can get big benefits from even a single minute of intense exercise.”

Saying there's a lot to be gained by working out for one minute is a bit misleading because it is actually a 17-minute workout. If I do six intervals, my total workout time is under twenty minutes, which fits nicely into anybody's schedule.

Posted in Beginners

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