Staying in shape does not necessarily have to mean spending endless hours at the gym pumping iron and running on a treadmill, according to a new study out of Europe.
Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that engaging in just four minutes of rigorous exercise three times a week is enough to raise oxygen intake levels and decrease blood pressure and glucose levels, two positive markers of physical fitness.
For 10 weeks, 26 inactive, overweight, but otherwise healthy men were instructed to follow one of two workout regimens. Half of the men were assigned to undertake the three, four-minute workout sessions per week protocol, while the other followed a three, 16-minute workout sessions per week protocol, which was broken down further into three, four-minute sessions per day, three times a week. At the end of 10 weeks, all of the men were evaluated for progress.
What was discovered was that oxygen intake among all the men was roughly equal, regardless of group assignment. This means that those doing four times as much exercise fared roughly the same in this department as those doing just 12 minutes of exercise a week. The shorter exercise group also saw noteworthy improvements in both cholesterol profile and body fat composition, though the benefits were even more pronounced in the group that did more exercise.
Overall, the men who engaged in the longer workout sessions fared better than the men who engaged in the shorter sessions.
But both groups saw health improvements that experts say should change the way we look at physical fitness. What may have previously been considered a waste of time – who would have thought just four minutes of rigorous exercise would be beneficial? – may hold the key to improving public health on the larger scale.
“These data suggest that it may be possible to reduce cardiovascular mortality with substantially less exercise than is generally recommended, provided it is performed in a vigorous manner,” wrote the authors in their conclusion.
“A growing body of evidence suggests that exercise training with low-volume but high-intensity may be a time-efficient means to achieve health benefits,” they added. “The 1-AIT (aerobic interval training) type of exercise training may be readily implemented as part of activities of daily living and could easily be translated into programs designed to improve public health.”