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Current government recommendations for 30 minutes of exercise five times a week could be met in less than half that time, according to a study involving researchers at Perth’s Curtin University.
The study found that doing nine 60-second sprints followed by two minutes of recovery could be as beneficial as 45 minutes of jogging.
Associate Professor Cecilie Thogersen-Ntoumani said the benefits of shorter, high-intensity sessions had already been established in laboratory studies.
“Our study was one of the first to look at whether it works in a real-life setting,” she said.
“We implemented a randomised control trial with 90 participants overall taking part in either moderate-intensity training or high-intensity condition training over 10 weeks.”
The researchers found there was similar benefit experienced by both groups — who had been sedentary prior to the training — in terms of fitness outcomes and cardio-metabolic improvement.
One group did moderate exercise for 30 to 45 minutes five times a week, and the high-intensity groups did just three sessions a week of 25 minutes.
“What we found, interestingly, was that there was a better adherence in those who did the high-intensity training,” Professor Thogersen-Ntoumani said.
“A big barrier to exercise is lack of time, whether perceived or actual. That could explain that difference.”
Christmas pud guilt won’t keep you at the gym for long
The significance of the research is that it widens the options available to people who are looking to improve their fitness, the professor said.
But, she said, there was still more work to be done to understand what motivated people to exercise.
She said most people quit fitness programs around the six-month mark.
“There are a lot of reasons why people drop out of exercise, but one of them is the quality of people’s motivation,” she said.
Feelings of guilt about over-eating at Christmas or making a New Year’s resolution to lose weight did not keep people motivated very long, she explained.
“If people have externally driven motivation — exercising out of feelings of guilt or because they want to please others — we know that that type of motivation doesn’t work in the longer term,” she said.
“So what we need to look at is how to internalise people’s motivation.”
Although high-intensity exercise, like running up stairs or quick sprints, might initially appeal as a workout that can be done in half the time, it is gruelling at the time and not right for everyone.
“Sometimes people need to try out what suits them better,” Professor Thogersen-Ntoumani said.
“There is also some kind of anecdotal evidence that some people don’t like high-intensity exercise, so clearly we need to find out more about who actually benefits from this.
“There are different options of getting fit and healthy and that has to be a good thing.”
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