fitness

Is one intense minute of exercise really better for you than a 45 minute session? We find out.

In news that will make the lazier among us let out an audible squeal of joy, a new study claims that the benefits of one minute of intense exercise rival that of a 45 minute workout session.

Before you bin your activewear, it pays to take a closer look at what exactly this means.

What does ‘one intense minute of exercise’ involve?

For the study, McMaster University’s exercise physiologist Martin Gibala and his team recruited 27 men of average fitness and split them into three groups – those who were assigned three weekly sessions of intense workouts, moderate workouts or none at all (the control group) for a 12-week period.

Those doing the strenuous workouts technically did just one minute of intense exercise, but including warm ups and cool downs (a total of 10 minutes). They were required to perform sprint interval training (SIT) with a two minute warm up on the bike, then three 20 second cycle sprints following by a five minute cool down session.

Image: Universal Pictures

The moderate training group were required to ride continuously for 45 minutes, while the control group did nothing.

The results.

Measuring a number of factors including cardio-respiratory fitness and insulin sensitivity, the researchers found that although the moderate group had done five times as much exercise as the SIT group, the health benefits were "remarkably similar."

"Most people cite 'lack of time' as the main reason for not being active. Our study shows that an interval-based approach can be more efficient - you can get health and fitness benefits comparable to the traditional approach, in less time," says Gibala. Watch Mamamia's pre-workout chat with Sam Wood about staying fit in just 28 minutes. (Post continues after video.)

What does that mean for you?

Yes, there is a catch.

It's not just about time, but rather the intensity.

"The study had participants do three timed 20 second sprints, with a rest period in between. What you are doing by sprinting is sending the body a clear message that a high output of work is required, then relaxing before doing it two more times," says personal trainer Alex Fergus.
"If these 'sprints' aren't intense, as in 'run for your life' intense then you won't reap the same benefits."
For most of us, the level of intensity required to be beneficial is nearly impossible to achieve in the time frame. (Post continues after gallery.)
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"In such a short time, you have to be working above maximum intensity to get the benefits, so it would work only for people who have been quite highly trained - the average person wouldn't be able to reach that intensity," explains Thamsin Dunn, National Master Coach of Fitness at Australian Institute of Fitness.

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Oh.

"Even at 12 minutes, your body might only just be warming up to the required heart and breathing rate needed to reach a particular level or the balance of oxygen input and carbon dioxide output."

That said, shorter workouts and High Intensity Impact Training are still hugely beneficial and mean you don't have to dedicate an hour everyday, but you will have to give a bit longer than just one minute. Damn.

"The multitude of 28 minute workouts we are seeing are good, but again it's all about intensity. You've got to look at total volume and intensity of training - 28 minutes of moderate walking is not going to reap the same rewards as 45 minutes of moderate walking," says Dunn.

"But 28 minutes of HIIT that works the whole body, is rhythmic in nature and you're working at around 85 per cent? That's hugely beneficial."

Image: iStock

The moral of the story? You don't need to be doing hours everyday but the benefits of reward depend entirely on intensity rather than the number on your stopwatch.

"People need to realise that when it comes to training, less is more. You don't need to bust your gut six times a week in the gym, in fact this could be slowly down your health goal progress.  We have bodies that work best at either extremes - slow and relaxed (walking), and intense running (sprints, etc)," says Fergus.
The harder you work, the quicker you finish - and the sooner you can get to brunch.
How long and often do you workout for?
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