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]

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