Can you really get fit by exercising for 3 minutes a week?

Just three minutes a week of exercise can make you fit. That’s 180 seconds out of 604,800. This apparently outrageous claim is apparently supported by many years of research

“A few relatively short bursts of intense exercise, amounting to only a few minutes a week, can deliver many of the health and fitness benefits of hours of conventional exercise” according to Dr Mark Moseley

This involves just three minutes of High Intensity Training (HIT) a week for four weeks and, advocates claim,  results can be seen in dramatic improvement in insulin sensitivity (on the order of 24%), and aerobic fitness Aerobic fitness has consistently been shown to be a very powerful predictor of future health

Moreover, the 3 minutes of High Intensity Training can be broken up for further ease and convenience. Just do one minute every couple of days or so. And go ahead and break up that minute into three 20 second sessions. Does it get easier than that? No, it doesn’t

How does it work?

At the moment there’s no definitive answer, but research done to date suggest that part of the explanation is (probably) is that HIT uses far more of our muscle tissue than classic aerobic exercise

When you do HIT, you’re using not just your leg muscles, but also your upper body including arms and shoulders, so that 80% of your body’s muscle cells are activated, compared to 20-40% for walking or moderate intensity jogging or cycling

Active exercise also seems to be needed to break down the body’s stores of glucose, deposited in your muscles as a substance called glycogen. Smash up these glycogen stores and you create room for more glucose to be sucked out of the blood and stored

Mosely’s results were mixed. His  insulin sensitivity had improved by a remarkable 24%, but his aerobic fitness hadn’t improved at all

You can watch Horizon: The Truth About Exercise here

What’s the catch?

Sadly, there are a few (surprise, surprise!)

First, it isn’t just 3 minute s a week. In the programmes Horizon:The Truth About Exercise, broadcast on February 28, Moseley went on the following programme:

“It’s actually very simple. You get on an exercise bike, warm up by doing gentle cycling for a couple of minutes, then go flat out for 20 seconds. A couple of minutes to catch your breath, then another 20 seconds at full throttle. Another couple of minutes gentle cycling, then a final 20 seconds going hell for leather. And that’s it”

Do this for four weeks of HIT, making a grand total of 12 minutes of intense exercise and 36 minutes of gentle pedalling. So not quite 3 minutes a week

Second ‘intense’ means ‘intense’. In fact it means that, if the three minutes are to be effective, they must hurt.  It’s all-out effort, taking you well out of your comfort zone. That level of discomfort makes some activities better-suited to intense training than others.  Cycling and swimming seem to work well, but running could be less effective. The pounding involved in repeated sprinting could lead to injuries, depending on a runner’s experience and stride mechanics

Third, and most, important. Apparently (and, say the sceptics, conveniently) not everyone can benefit from this HIT to the same degree. How much you benefit depends on your genes

It seems that a good portion of the population simply does not respond to exercise. They are called ‘non-responders’. Some 10% don’t appear to achieve any conventionally expected benefits from exercise, while others only receive some of the benefits, while missing others  - for example, up to 20% don’t get benefits in insulin sensitivity. The same applies for one in six non-responders to exercise who don’t lose weight and don’t improve their muscle tone as a result of their workouts

On the other hand 15% of the population are ‘super-responders’ whocan make huge strides with HIT

On the basis of these findings researches working with Mosely have developed a genetic test to predict who is likely to be a responder, and who isn’t.  Sadly for Mosely it turned out that the genetic test they had done on him had suggested he was a non-responder and however much exercise he had done, and of whatever form, his aerobic fitness would not have improved

However, genes aren’t everything, and medical science keeps evolving: even if you’re a non-responder to exercise, most physicians would advise you to keep exercising, as there may be hidden benefits that science will uncover in the future, even for non-responders

Try it by all means but be aware that, as with everything else in life, you very rarely get something for (almost) nothing. And please consult your doctor before jumping straight in to HIT

For a more realistic view, NMTBP highly recommends this short film

Try to watch it all the way through, then go to Look Good, Feel Great for more information

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  1. Paul Sheraton

    February 29, 2012

    Thanks for the video link I think I can manage 30 mins a day exercising :)

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February 29, 2012

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