A study published in PLOS One in May has suggested that even just four-minute bouts of high intensity exercise, thrice a week, could be enough to keep fit. A lot has been written about the benefits of exercise in short intervals. Yet, short has always meant at least twenty minutes, or so it was thought.
Doctors constantly speak about the impact of lifestyle diseases that hit those with sedentary lifestyles. Yet, exercise brings to mind fearsome thoughts of the gym or gravity-defining bodily postures and people convince themselves that they do not have the time.
Gym instructor Prabhu, who has worked in Bangalore for the last twelve years, says: “If we exercise for half an hour five to six days a week with another ten minutes thrown in for a warm up, it is enough to keep us fit.” This is about four hours a week, time many would rather spend pursuing other interests.
Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, took 26 overweight people with sedentary lifestyles and split them into two groups. One group ran on the treadmill at 90 per cent of their maximal heart rate for 16 minutes with three breaks of one-minute slow walking in between. The other group ran at 90 per cent of their maximal heart rate for just four minutes a day. Both the groups repeated this thrice a week for ten weeks.
At the end, both the groups had increased endurance levels by 10 per cent (measured as an increase in their maximal oxygen uptake), reduced blood pressure and blood glucose. Arnt Erik Tjonna, a postdoctoral fellow at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who led the study, says: “This is not a weight-loss programme. It suggests how people can kick-start a better fitness regime.”
Dr Priyanka, chief dietician and nutritionist at Apollo Hospitals, Bangalore, says: “High intensity workouts help in the building of muscle mass that increases the metabolic rate.”
Dr Hemant K Kalyan, a specialist in Sports Medicine at Manipal Hospitals, says: “It is too early to say that four minutes of strenuous work can replace 30 minutes of walking each day. These kind of strenuous workouts may not be possible for senior citizens or those with heart conditions. High-intensity workouts ought to be coupled with low intensity endurance activity.”
However, there is a little kink. A study of European and South Asian men by the University of Glasgow, suggests that South Asian men are more prone to diabetes because of their ethnicity and genetic make-up. Therefore, South Asians may just have to exercise more to reach better fitness levels!