The race to the shortest workout

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Americans have often been told how much exercise they should be doing, but most don t do any planned exercise at all. Researchers are now changing course and trying to find out how little exercise can be done, while still reaping some of the health benefits. At an annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, presentations and seminars focused on examining various approaches to exercise; the researchers concluded that even just a few minutes of strenuous exercise several times a week has some health benefits.

The recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week that was suggested by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2008 was based on a large body of science showing significant associations between this amount of exercise and a longer life span, as well as a reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes. However, while some ideas are good in theory, in practice they fall short.

By many estimates, at least 80 percent of Americans are not meeting these recommendations. Although ideally we should work out more, because the goal is ultimately to improve our health, more strenuous but shorter, less intimidating workouts are being explored.

Norwegian scientists, for example, found that three four-minute runs a week at a pace equivalent to 90 percent of a person s maximal heart rate improved endurance capacities by about 10 percent after 10 weeks. Another study found that 19 minutes of exercise three times a week improved levels of oxygen uptake, and resulted in reductions in systolic blood pressure and fasting glucose levels.

ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross said, While it is undeniable that, ultimately, getting more exercise is healthier, in fact some exercise is still better than none at all. As someone who enjoys certain exercise activities but finds himself like so many of us do too busy to adhere to guidelines promulgated by experts in academia, I was gratified to read about the benefits to be obtained from shorter yet intense intervals.