A study highlighted this week by Horizon on BBC2 has become a hot topic. During the programme some research showed that exercise time amounting to only a few minutes a week, can deliver many of the health and fitness benefits of hours of conventional exercise.
What a great headline that makes!
However what exactly is the truth behind that? The news that short bursts of very intense exercise can be good for our fitness is not really new news, a method called Tabata has been around since 1996 and is supposed to improve fitness with just 4 minutes 2-4 times a week.
This new(ish) method is called HIIT, High Intensity Interval Training and one of the studies can be found here: http://www.springerlink.com/content/h774562781l24jq0/
What follows are more thoughts on this as a stand-alone method of exercise rather than a critique of HIIT.
It's all very well saying 3 minutes but what about the warm-up? If you are about to perform high intensity exercise you need to ensure the body is warm first to prevent injury.Then you have the low intensity recovery periods. Finally after you have performed the exercise you need to cool down and stretch.
Some people are very busy and therefore maximum results for minimum time is always going to appeal but I would counter that the time you put aside to exercise isn't just about exercise. It's a perfect time to have a think about things, socialise or just get some fresh air. Making exercise part of your lifestyle means you are also more likely to continue doing it.
Doesn't take into account different levels of fitness
Not everyone will be able to use this method - personally I would only use it on someone used to exercise and as part of a programme with specific goals. This exercise routine could be dangerous to people with certain medical conditions.
If you are not enthusiastic about exercise then working at the level required without motivation might be quite difficult.
I know it's only a minute so theoretically you won't have time to get bored, even so the same exercise routine everyday?
Last but definitely not least:
The study shows you could see an increase in insulin sensitivity (therefore reduce the risk of diabetes) and aerobic capacity. However these are not the only measures of fitness. What about strength training or flexibility? Reducing the risk of diabetes, whilst important, doesn't make you 'fit'.
So you may think that I am not a huge fan of HIIT, but that isn't so. It has a place but that place is part of an exercise programme which also contains strength training and flexibility. It obviously does work for some people, and as part of a well rounded fitness programme could make a great addition. It's just not the magic bullet that everyone is looking for.
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