In fact, just three 20-second bursts of fast cycling three times a week could be all you need to do to maintain a healthy heart. And if you can’t get to a gym, running up a flight of stairs has the same benefits.
The approach, known as sprint interval training (SIT), has been developed by scientists at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. They’ve already established that it improves heart and lung fitness and insulin sensitivity, but in a new trial they’ve tested it against more conventional, moderate exercise.
The McMaster researchers got together a group of 27 men, who had done little or no exercise, and had them do SIT or moderate exercise for 12 weeks. The moderate exercise was 45 minutes of continuous cycling three times a week.
Health improvements were almost identical, even though the moderate-exercise group had spent five times as long in exercising and made a fivefold greater commitment of time.
The SIT protocol involves three 20-second ‘all-out’ intense exercise sessions, such as cycling, over a 10-minute period. The workout time also included a two-minute warm-up and a three-minute cool-down period. This was carried out three times a week.
“Most people cite ‘lack of time’ as the main reason for not being active, Our study shows that an interval-based approach can be more efficient; you can get health and fitness benefits comparable to the traditional approach, in less time, “ says researcher Martin Gibala, professor of kinesiology at McMaster’s.