The king of excuses to avoid exercise is a lack of time. Sadly, the excuse will no longer apply—research has given us more reason to believe you can get a good workout in a trivial timeframe. In a new study, sedentary subjects who did one minute of high-intensity exercise saw the same health benefits over a 12-week period as those who did 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise. Isn’t that nice?
The underlying concept may be familiar to you: high-intensity interval training (HIIT), one of the current trends in exercise science, is said to yield great value for every minute of your misery. The routine alternates brief intervals of all-out sprints with longer intervals of moderate exercise. You can tweak with the difficulty of your workout by lengthening the sprint windows and decreasing the rest windows. In the study, for example, the bikers followed this cycling pattern: 2 minutes moderate, 20-second sprint, 2 minutes moderate, 20-second sprint, 2 minutes moderate, 20-second sprint, 3 minute cool down. The combined total of 10 minutes—with only 1 strenuous minute—offered the same benefits to insulin sensitivity and endurance as the other routine, 45 minutes at a steady speed even higher than the HIIT group’s resting speed.
The principle behind HIIT can be applied to all manner of cardio: outdoor run, treadmill, bike, swim, jumprope, elliptical, and so on. (Be advised that on a shitty elliptical machine your sprints will produce a violent, clunking noise that upsets fellow gym-goers.)
The tough part, of course, is focusing. For as short of a period of a time it is, it won’t be easy in initial attempts—if you’re doing it right, you should want to vomit or scream or both as you approach the close of each sprint, such that the rest phases feel like merciful relief. This point cannot be overstated: you need to exert yourself as much as you physically can, every single time that sprint phrase rears its ugly head. Maybe you’re not so down with intermittent feelings of anger and nausea, but the payoff is fitness in a very tidy timeframe, leaving many more minutes to do other things, like eat and drink beer and generally undo the good you did.