CLOSE

Just One Minute of Intense Exercise May Improve Your Fitness Levels

Can’t spare 45 minutes for a workout? Surely you can squeeze 60 seconds of exercise into your busy schedule. According to one new study published in the journal PLOS One, a single minute of intense physical activity can provide your body with health and fitness benefits similar to the ones you gain from a longer, more moderate exercise session, The New York Times reports.

Researchers from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, took 27 sedentary males and pre-assessed their cardiovascular fitness levels. The scientists also evaluated their subjects’ insulin sensitivity, and they biopsied their muscles to see how well the cells functioned.

Next, the researchers divided the men into three groups. One group performed a 10-minute long, high-intensity interval training workout on stationary bikes. Since the workout involved 20-second periods of vigorous peddling on the bike followed by 120-second stretches of slower cycling, these subjects only exercised strenuously for a total of one minute.

Meanwhile, the second group was assigned a more “typical” exercise routine: They cycled at a moderate pace on the bike for 45 minutes, along with a warm-up and cool-down. The third group of men served as a control, and simply went about their lethargic lives as usual.

The scientists had their subjects perform these fitness routines three times a week, for a period of approximately three months. By the end of the program, the group of moderate cyclists had clearly exercised for more time than their interval training counterparts. However, researchers evaluated the men, and discovered that members of both groups had upped their endurance by nearly 20 percent. The subjects also showed similarly improved insulin resistance levels, as well as gains in muscle function at the cellular level.

In other words? Exercising smarter—not longer—can save time, and may provide significant physical benefits. People who want to get fit but have busy schedules might want to consider sprint interval training: physically pushing yourself for one minute, slowing down, and repeating the cycle a few more times.

"This is a very time-efficient workout strategy," Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster and lead author on the study, said in a statement. "Brief bursts of intense exercise are remarkably effective."

The study does have its limitations. For instance, it only looked at the short-term benefits of interval training, and it didn’t measure weight loss. The study’s subjects were out of shape, too, Quartz points out, which might have made their noticeable physical gains far more dramatic than if they had been accustomed to exercising. Plus, weight-bearing exercises—which are important for bone density—can’t really be squeezed into tight intervals. Short workouts may sound great in theory, but they're not really practical if you're strength-training.

Also, the researchers only monitored physical improvements. We gain myriad mental benefits from exercising; studies show that physical activity reduces depression and anxiety levels, and may improve memory and cognitive skills. The jury’s still out on whether interval training gives our brains the same boost we get from a longer sweat session.   

The main takeaway? Even a little bit of physical activity is better than none at all—even if it's still unclear whether one minute of intense exercise is truly enough to stay fit.

[h/t The New York Times]

Banner image courtesy of iStock. 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
Smiling Could Improve Your Athletic Performance—But Your Grins Can't Be Fake
iStock
iStock

Athletes obviously enjoy breaking a sweat, but it’s not often that you’ll see one break into a smile while in the throes of competition. Yet that’s exactly what many coaches instruct them to do: Grinning mid-race has been said to relax muscles and boost physical performance. Recently, a group of researchers put this theory to the test, according to The New York Times. Their findings were published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

Researchers from Ulster University in Northern Ireland and Swansea University in Wales instructed a group of 24 non-professional runners—both men and women—to shift between smiles and scowls while running on a treadmill. The volunteers were told that the experiment would measure how certain factors affected the amount of oxygen they used while jogging at various running speeds.

For the experiment’s first stage, runners wore face masks that measured their breathing. As they exercised until fatigue, researchers asked them to rate how they felt and report their coping strategies—for example, whether were they ignoring their pain or embracing it.

The study’s second segment required volunteers to engage in four individual runs, each lasting for six minutes. Mid-run, they were told to smile both genuinely and continuously, to scowl, to relax their torsos using a visualization technique, or to simply fall back on their usual endurance mindsets.

Smiles didn’t always improve runners’ performances. A few subjects picked up the pace while grimacing, possibly because these “game faces” made them ultra-determined to beat their personal records. But overall, runners with smiles were nearly 3 percent more efficient than normal. While seemingly insignificant, this difference is large enough to affect someone’s race performance, experts say.

Keeping in mind the study’s small size, the authors conclude that exercising while smiling might reduce muscular tension and thus amp up performance. But in order to gain this positive effect, athletes must beam genuinely. Fake smiles, like the kind you’ll see in school pictures, don’t work as many facial muscles, and therefore result in lower levels of relaxation.

Since it’s hard for anyone (let alone a focused athlete) to maintain an authentic smile during prolonged periods of strenuous activity, scientists suggest smiling near a race’s end, in 30-second intervals.

[h/t The New York Times]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
Marathon Running Won't Undo Poor Lifestyle Choices, Study Suggests
iStock
iStock

Even marathon participants can't outrun an unhealthy lifestyle, according to a new study highlighted by The New York Times.

For years, expert opinion has been mixed on whether long-distance running helps or hurts hearts. In the 1970s, research suggested that marathon running and a heart-healthy diet would completely prevent atherosclerosis (a buildup of harmful plaque in the arteries). But since high-profile runners have died of heart attacks, scientists in the 1980s began to worry that running might actually harm the vital organ. Compounding this fear in recent years were studies suggesting that male endurance athletes exhibited more signs of heart scarring or plaques than their less-active counterparts.

Experts don't have a verdict quite yet, but researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford and their colleagues have some good news—running doesn't seem to harm athletes' hearts, but it's also not a panacea for heart disease. They figured this out by asking 50 longtime marathon runners, all male, with an average age of 59, to fill out questionnaires about their training, health history, and habits, and then examining them for signs of atherosclerosis.

Only 16 of the runners ended up having no plaque in their arteries, and the rest exhibited slight, moderate, or worrisome amounts. The men who had unhealthy hearts also had a history of smoking and high cholesterol. A grueling training regime seemed to have no effect on these levels.

Bottom line? Marathon running won't hurt your heart, but it's not a magic bullet for poor lifestyle choices.

[h/t The New York Times]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios