Super-Short Exercises May Increase Wellness

The big story in exercise science this year was the super-short workout.
In one particularly useful study from May, scientists found that three brief sessions per day of interval-style exercise — consisting of one minute of brisk walking followed by another minute of strolling, repeated six times — allowed people at risk of diabetes to control their blood sugar better than a continuous 30-minute walk.

Just as important, these short “exercise snacks,” as the scientists called the condensed sessions, were more popular with the study’s participants than the single, longer walk, the scientists reported. They liked finishing quickly.

That sentiment likewise explains the popularity of the “Scientific 7-Minute Workout,” which I first wrote about in 2013 and updated this fall with an advanced version and a related app. Similarly, many of you were intrigued by a July study detailing how running as little as five minutes a day might add years to someone’s life span. “Most people can fit in five minutes a day” of exercise, one of the study’s authors told me.

But should even that time commitment seem excessive, scientists obligingly developed and tested a one-minute workout this year, with three 20-second intervals of very hard exercise leading to robust improvements in the endurance and health of the study’s overweight, out-of-shape volunteers.

There is naturally a catch to such truncated workouts, however. In each of these studies, the exertion involved was intense. The volunteers panted and strained, albeit briefly. Their strenuous exercise seemed to invoke “more potent” physiological responses than gentler activity, one of the researchers involved in the exercise-snacking study said.

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary