What if I told all you exercise haters than you only need 3 minutes of exercise a week?
Would you be my new best friend?
Would you be motivated to finally get off the couch?
I could probably find it in me somewhere to handle just 3 minutes of exercise a week. You couldn’t possibly sweat that much in 3 minutes, so I wouldn’t even have to add an extra shower to my daily routine. Now that’s a huge bonus.
You might think I’m teasing you with this seemingly silly little claim, but doctor-turned-journalist Michael Mosley put this theory to the test and found it to be true. Now there is a catch, of course. It can’t be a casual 3 minute stroll to the mailbox. It’s 3 minutes of intense exercise. You may have heard of HIIT, or high intensity interval training. That’s exactly what this is, but taken to a whole new level. Instead of 30 or 60 minutes of cardio with moments of intense exertion thrown in the mix (which is a very effective workout), this routine consists of super quick sprints. Dr. Mosley’s exact routine was to warm up on a stationary bike, then all out sprint for 20 seconds. After a few minutes of slow pedaling to catch his breath, he followed it up with another 10 second sprint, then repeated the cycle one more time. He did this workout three times a week, which added up to 3 minutes of intense exercise and about 6 minutes of casual cycling per week.
Mosley did this crazy-sounding routine for 4 weeks, then measured his results. The outcome? His insulin sensitivity improved by 24%, meaning his body was able to keep his blood sugar more stable. Another study found improvements as great as 35% in just two weeks. In that study, subjects exercised at 60% of their max for 60 seconds, followed by 60 seconds of rest. They repeated this 10 times. Including warm up and cool down, the entire workout was completed in less than half an hour. They performed this routine 3 times a week.
So how does HIIT help improve insulin sensitivity? The exact mechanism isn’t yet clear, but researchers hypothesize it has to do with exercise breaking down muscle glycogen, the stored form of glucose. The breakdown of stored glucose makes room for new glucose in the muscle, which removes it from the bloodstream. HIIT may be more effective at this process than traditional exercise because it requires about 80% muscle involvement, including muscles in both the upper and lower body, compared to just 40% muscle engagement during lower intensity exercise.
While managing blood sugar is a huge factor in improving health, it’s not the only piece of the puzzle. This small amount of HIIT does not appear to be effective in improving aerobic fitness, which is important in increasing blood flow from the heart to the muscles and thereby increasing their ability to use oxygen.
So three minutes a week may not solve all the world’s health problems, but it sure beats the alternative: sitting on the couch. And I think we can all vow to free up an extra 3 minutes in our busy lives to improve our health.
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