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Medicine Science

Scientists Study How Little Exercise You Need 437

Hugh Pickens writes "Millions of Americans don't engage in much exercise, if they complete any at all and asked why, a majority of respondents, in survey after survey, say, 'I don't have time.' Now Gretchen Reynolds reports that instead of wondering just how much exercise people really need in order to gain health and fitness, a group of scientists in Canada are turning that issue on its head and asking, how little exercise do we need to maintain fitness and the answer appears to be, a lot less than most of us think — provided we're willing to work a bit. Most people have heard of intervals, or repeated, short, sharp bursts of strenuous activity, interspersed with rest periods. Almost all competitive athletes strategically employ a session or two of interval training every week to improve their speed and endurance. Researchers have developed a version of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that involves one minute of strenuous effort, at about 90 percent of a person's maximum heart rate (which most of us can estimate, very roughly, by subtracting our age from 220), followed by one minute of easy recovery. The effort and recovery are repeated 10 times, for a total of 20 minutes and the interval training is performed twice a week. Despite the small time commitment of this modified HIIT program, after several weeks of practicing it, both the unfit volunteers and the cardiac patients showed significant improvements in their health and fitness. 'A growing body of evidence demonstrates that high-intensity interval training can serve as an effective alternate to traditional endurance-based training, inducing similar or even superior physiological adaptations in healthy individuals and diseased populations, at least when compared on a matched-work basis.'"
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Scientists Study How Little Exercise You Need

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  • Interval Training (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @09:08PM (#39054171) Homepage Journal
    Works wonders if your employer has an onsite gym. Duck in at random intervals throughout the day, bang out 100 leg presses, 15 heavyweight curls each arm, 30 heavyweight dumbell presses, 40 reps of wrist curls with 40-pound dumbbells each arm. Feels good, man, even on a diet of beer and Mexican food.

    The intervals meaning that interruption to your routine is minimal since you're not doing it all at once when everybody else is using the gym, like at lunchtimes or after work.
    • by Anne_Nonymous ( 313852 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @09:13PM (#39054233) Homepage Journal

      >> even on a diet of beer and Mexican food

      I am so happy that I don't share an office with you.

    • by artor3 ( 1344997 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @09:25PM (#39054363)

      That's not really the way interval training works, though the fact that you exercise at all puts you head and shoulders above most people in this country. Real interval training requires you to do a bunch of short intervals of exercise with only slightly longer periods of rest in between. For example, sprint for one minute, slow jog for two, repeat that cycle six times. Most exercise machines (treadmills, bikes, ellipticals, etc.) have such an option as one of the built-in programs.

      But regardless of whether or not what you're suggesting is "real" interval training, the fact remains that it is exercise, and for most people, even modest exercise is enough to keep them from getting fat and weak. Just remember to wear deodorant, because under the proposed regimen, you're not going to be showering after each interval.

      • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:53PM (#39055195) Homepage Journal

        <nelson>HA HA!</nelson>

        I eat what I want and don't get much exercise at all. I'm thin, sit all day, drink too much, and you know what? You have to die from something. Live while you're alive. Take it from an old man who'll be sixty in a couple of months.

        (now watch me die tomorrow, that would show me, wouldn't it?)

        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @11:12PM (#39055329)

          I agree with 'Live while you are alive' but sitting on the couch, drinking and eating crap I find less of the living then spending couple of hours in the gym, relaxing brain while walking or camping and eating stuff that makes me feel good AFTERWARDS (like fruits and oatmeal).

        • by jimbolauski ( 882977 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @09:53AM (#39058805) Journal
          How is sitting around all day living, most of the people that follow your lifestyle are overweight and the only pleasure they get from life is what's on TV. I'll admit I only have 1/2 the life experience and maybe when I've doubled it I will be content to sit around all day. Most people that work out enjoy it, the endorphins and the satisfaction of improving yourself are what motivates them, I know I feel good about myself after a hard workout, long bike rides let me clear my mind of the days troubles, yet some would find it incredibly boring. The increased level of fitness lets me run around with my kids all day and not get tired, go hiking and see beautiful things that people miss because they can't get there, the last time I went to Smokey Mountain National Park I was glad I was in shape many people that were not overweight could not make it up to chimney top and I was treated to a wonderful view.
      • Re:Interval Training (Score:5, Informative)

        by metlin ( 258108 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:53PM (#39055201) Journal

        for most people, even modest exercise is enough to keep them from getting fat and weak

        I would actually say that diet is infinitely more important than exercise. There's a reason it's said that six packs are made in the kitchen.

        Someone who eats healthy and does not work out is often in better shape than someone who eats junk and "works out" for half hour a day. Most of those people just use their momentum to do some crazy exercises with piss poor forms, and eat unhealthy crap afterwards because they've worked out (think middle aged man with flabby biceps and a beer gut trying to bench press, when he probably has 30% body fat).

      • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

        Oh wow, I just now realized that that was basically what my elementary school gym teacher had us do.

        We were training to run the mile towards the end of 8th grade. He'd have us do "intervals" of running 1 minute and walking 2 minutes. He said no matter how slow or weak you thought you were, it's good for you if you just keep moving. Even the slowest kid in the class eventually got up to a time of 11:30 where previously it would have taken him nearly the whole 45 minute period to get it done.

    • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:06PM (#39054781) Homepage Journal

      Getting your heartrate up is the important bit - use those lungs and get your liver in fighting trim. The more vital you are the better off you are, short and long term.

      I'd hate to see research coming out recommending people do as little as possible. It would only confirm to the at-risk group they don't need to work on it. Meanwhile, people I went to high school with are popping their clogs. Geez.

    • Re:Interval Training (Score:4, Informative)

      by cmarkn ( 31706 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:34PM (#39055031)

      This shows a complete lack of understanding of what this training is about. In order to bang out 100 leg presses you have to be working at an extremely low intensity, and banging weights is the way to tear your muscles. High Intensity means doing one set, of very few reps, with moderately heavy weights, moving slowly and smoothly, and maintaining perfect form throughout every motion. This way there is virtually no risk of injury. And then resting for several days to allow the muscles that have been worked hard to recover and rebuild. In fact, even this a overworking; it takes only seconds at maximum capability to produce the desired effect from an exercise.

      I work out once a week, for 20 minutes at a time, and have wonderful improvement in my blood pressure and resting pulse rate in the last six months. My endurance in other activities is also improving slowly but surely. And that with no injury whatsoever, though I am sore the next day.

      Contrary to descriptions elsewhere on the page, I do no warm-ups or warm-downs, and no stretching before or after exercise. Stretching moves muscles to their weakest positions, which weakens them, and stresses their attachments to bones. Together, this means that stretching both lowers the effectiveness of exercise and raises the likelihood of injury. Don't do it.

    • Re:Interval Training (Score:5, Informative)

      by metlin ( 258108 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:42PM (#39055107) Journal

      You know, I used to feel the same way (i.e. macros are more important, and as long as you got your nutrients, the source doesn't really matter).

      But a while ago, I changed my lifestyle -- vegetarian, gave up alcohol, coffee, and most processed foods, and just started eating healthier foods in general.

      I've seen a drastic difference in not just my fitness levels, but also my stamina. I'm having the flu right now, and yet, my buddies and I just had an intense workout out for over an hour at the gym, and I didn't even feel tired.

      Things like interval workouts are great, but they only work to an extent. There's something to be said about putting your body in the "zone" (as far as heart rates and muscle groups are concerned) because when you're done thoroughly working out with an entire muscle group, and you'll see much better progress over time. This, of course, is my personal experience and quite anecdotal. YMMV.

    • by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:53PM (#39055199) Journal
      I walk between the house and the car, and between the car and the office twice a day, five days a week. Surely that's interval training enough. Most times I even carry a satchel.
  • by alphatel ( 1450715 ) * on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @09:09PM (#39054181)

    Researchers have developed a version of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that involves one minute of strenuous effort, at about 90 percent of a person's maximum heart rate (which most of us can estimate, very roughly, by subtracting our age from 220), followed by one minute of easy recovery. The effort and recovery are repeated 10 times, for a total of 20 minutes and the interval training is performed twice a week.

    That's way more than I was willing to commit to memory, let alone perform

    • by blueg3 ( 192743 )

      Considering that the heart rate is only useful if you bother to measure it,

      [ 1 minute high intensity -> 1 minute low intensity ] x 10, twice a week

    • me too... brain.lang.StackOverflowError()

      • But in the interest of overall health, I am going to kill that mental thread and try what the article suggests. :-)
        Otherwise my entire primary thread pool will be deleted.

      • Re:oh vey (Score:4, Insightful)

        by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @12:52AM (#39056129)
        90% heart rate pretty much just means "go flat out." So, one minute flat out, one minute rest. Repeat 10 times. I can tell you right now that this will make those 20 minutes of exercise about as unpleasant as they could be. Concentrating your exercise like this maximizes the gap between your normal level of activity (none) and your exercise. I'm surprised it doesn't cause heart attacks, but far be it from me to offer up intuition against data.
  • er what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AdamWill ( 604569 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @09:12PM (#39054223) Homepage

    "Now Gretchen Reynolds reports that instead of wondering just how much exercise people really need in order to gain health and fitness, a group of scientists in Canada are turning that issue on its head and asking, how little exercise do we need to maintain fitness"

    How is that 'turning the issue on its head'? It seems to me more like a very minor rephrasing of the question which ultimately makes no difference at all.

    • Re:er what? (Score:4, Funny)

      by snarkh ( 118018 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:26PM (#39054959)

      "You are old, Father William," the young man said,
      "And your hair has become very white;
      And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
      Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

      "In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
      "I feared it might injure the brain;
      But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
      Why, I do it again and again."

  • Because I think it's boring. It's not that I don't have the time, but I would just rather be doing other things. I think a lot of people who say, "I don't have the time" are like that, too.

    Other things like commenting on Slashdot, yes.

    • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:02PM (#39054741) Homepage

      > Because I think it's boring.

      You'll find diabetes and heart disease boring as well. But don't worry: Alzheimer's will help you forget the boredom.

    • by metlin ( 258108 )

      Of course it's boring when you start out. It's like everything else. When you start programming, you don't start writing game engines -- you start with the basics.

      When you start working out, you start with the basics, such as cardio and working your basic muscle groups. But over time, you will get in good enough shape that you can start doing interesting things.

      In fact, even if you just played a fast-moving sport regularly, you'll see a great improvement (think soccer or tennis, not baseball or golf).

      One of

    • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @02:21AM (#39056591)

      Because I think it's boring. It's not that I don't have the time, but I would just rather be doing other things.

      Something that really helps me do treadmill is watching a movie. I once had a shelf for a laptop above the treadmill, but these days most treadmills have screens and iPod connections. I've found the best movies for exercising aren't great movies, they're 2 1/2 star action flicks. My wife has found the same thing, but for her it's trashy TV, mainly reality shows.

      Even then, would I rather be doing other things? Probably. But it's just a cost of having a sedentary job. We weren't meant to live like this.

  • ...30 minutes a week, every week for the past 3 years, and still getting stronger every week. Slow strength training is by far the most effective exercise I've encountered so far, and the benefits for just 30 minutes a week are *crazy*. []

    No, I don't get kickbacks, but I'm forever grateful to Fred Hahn for figuring this crap out.

  • Sex (Score:5, Funny)

    by BitHive ( 578094 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @09:25PM (#39054369) Homepage

    It sounds like this regimen could be incorporated into sex, or masturbation if you're creative.

    preemptive "slashdot readers don't have sex, lol"

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Put weights on your arm. You'll go blind AND have large muscles.

    • by tool462 ( 677306 )

      We may be able to pull off, literally, a 1 minute burst of activity near our max heart rate. The problem is being able to do 10 of those with only 1 minute of rest in between.

    • by Aguazul ( 620868 )
      Let's see how your GF adapts to alternating between one minute intense activity and one minute rest for 20 mins. (Maybe necessary to check out Mantak Chia for endurance tips?) Suggestion: Try not to let her notice you watching the clock to maintain the correct timing. Actually, running up stairs at every opportunity seems like it might fit as well.
  • .... I highly doubt it would do anything to resolve any actual obesity.

    I've made a point of exercising a lot lately... and I've found that my endurance has gone up considerably since I started, but I'm just as fat as I ever was. At least I'm not gaining any more weight... still undesirably obese though.

    • The problem with American eating habits is almost surely the massive amounts of carbs that we take in. Shoot for 100 grams of carbs per day for the next month and see what happens. 100 grams is below the recommended amount, but is not the dangerous atkins-level no-carb deprivation.
    • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

      I've made a point of exercising a lot lately... and I've found that my endurance has gone up considerably since I started, but I'm just as fat as I ever was.

      Fat, or heavy?

      I lost 10 lbs of fat from a year of biking to work, but my total weight didn't change at all because I gained 10 lbs of muscle. That wasn't a bad trade.

    • Keep it up, Bro. May I suggest you grab a protein shake as soon after exercising as possible - but use this as a meal replacement. And cut out high carb snacks between meals. It can be fun to be slightly hungry, especially when your fitness is improving! Regardless, I know some big guys who race bikes and whup the skinny guys.

    • by artor3 ( 1344997 )

      Obviously you've probably heard a million different bits of dieting advice, so one more will probably go unheeded, but have you tried cutting out high calorie beverages? After gaining 30 lbs in a year by eating at restaurants too often while traveling, I've dropped 20 lbs by reducing my calorie intake without reducing the amount I eat or increasing my exercise simply by only drinking zero calorie drinks (with occasional beers as exceptions). By my estimation, that change has cut about 500 calories a day f

      • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        Just pay attention to what you're putting in yourself for awhile and avoid the obvious highly dense problematic foods. Also apply the ancient rules regarding sweets and snacking between meals.

        Most people get fat and stay fat because of bad habits.

    • You're confusing 'fit' with 'slim'. Many people do. It's completely possible to have a healthy cardiac system (the most important part), but be quite obese. How thin you are is mainly a function of diet; how healthy you are is mainly a function of exercise. They have significant correlation, but they are distinct data points with separate causes.

      The more important of the two for health is your cardiac fitness. The more desirable of the two in social situations is your BMI. Choose wisely.

    • The thing about exercise and diet as a way to lose weight is this:

      The purpose of the exercise portion is to build muscle mass because muscle requires more calories than not-muscle does to maintain - so, by having more muscle you burn more calories all the time, at rest, when active, whatever.

      The diet portion means to figure out what you actually need to take in and to do so with proper nutrition.

      If you're right now obese and starting an exercise routine, the best thing would be lots and lots of weight lifti

    • Also, good on ya for starting to exercise!

    • by Rolgar ( 556636 )

      Look into Mark's Daily Apple. He was a marathoner. Then, the wear and tear on his body finally got to him.

      He started researching, and the info on his blog will tell you what makes you fat.

      Here's a brief run down:
      Grains (all, but most commonly consumed are oats, wheat (cereal, bread and pasta) and corn (including corn syrup and tortilla chips)
      Potatoes (Potatoes are a starchy white carbohydrate)

      As much as possible, eat Natural meat, and a large variety of vegetables with a few fruits.

  • Isn't this basically the same idea as the Canadian Air Force exercise program of the 50s? []

    • imo it was and still is a good program, nothing needed apart for a bit of floor space.
      These days the tabata protocol [] (basically 4 minutes of hiit) 4 times a week is my main form of exercise (no warm up), I also "play" with rings [] - this doesn't take much time as it is very taxing on the upper body. But for a change, nothing wrong with the 5BX calistenics.
      • The parent has excellent advice. My own regiment is Tabata protocol coupled with squats, deadlifts, standing overhead press, and pullups. My workouts average about 25 minutes TOTAL between lifting and cardio, and I workout three times a week max. Ring training is also awesome.

        In reality, most of us could do HIIT, some pushups, pullups, and pistols [] (which admittedly are demanding) and be fine.

        The number ONE issue with weight control will nearly always be what you put in your mouth. If you can wedge mor
  • by Provocateur ( 133110 ) <> on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @09:53PM (#39054655) Homepage

    Refrigerator door pull:
    1. Stand with your feet evenly in front of the icebox. Pull door open, check whats inside. Close the door.
    2. Pull open, retrieve one of the 6pack. Close door.
    3. Pull open, get salsa. Close door.
    4. Pull open, get lime. Close door.
    5. When it's time for next bottle/can, repeat #2.

    Sixteen ounce wrist curls:
    1. Pop open that beer/soda/caffeinated drink. 6 reps, one for each gulp, right wrist first.
    2. Do 6 reps for left wrist as well.

    Use your imagination, and your regular work area could be a workout area as well. Practice saying, "Yeah, I work out" with the intensity showing in your eyes.

  • high-intensity interval training (HIIT)

    Why does this remind me of the old joke about Specialized High Intensity Training []?

  • So I guess that super expensive bicycle thing I see advertized in magazines might actually not be a placebo/scam?

  • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) * on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:11PM (#39054825) Homepage Journal
    Most of the /. readers are concerned about age-related cognitive decline -- either that or they've already declined cognitively to the point that they should forget about /. and turn on the TV.

    The best way, currently known, to slow age-related cognitive decline is exercise because it produces Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor.

    But did TFA even mention BDNF?


    Maybe the author should exercise more.

  • I heat with a wood stove. This sounds just like my normal day of carrying firewood. (Maple ain't light.)

  • Oddly enough, that is how I start after I've been away for a while (often due to unusual work pressures or injury - @@#^%%$ P90X) - I swim, and alternate 50s of freestyle (usu to 80-90%) and breaststroke (about 70-75%) on the minute, taking breaks every 5 minutes until I drop below 60%, then another set.

    Still, even when I'm in my best shape, I'm rarely doing more than 35-40 minutes total workout (prob ~30 minutes actual swimming, ~ 1 mile) 3X a week.

  • Yes but (Score:4, Interesting)

    by f97tosc ( 578893 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:21PM (#39054917)
    Maybe it is true that 10x1 min high-intensity training is just as good as 20, 30 or even 40 minutes of easier training.

    But for most people I am not sure if it is any more fun or easier to commit to.

    As a pretty serious long distance runner (running Boston Marathon this spring), I don't doubt that intervals can make me faster and I will do some before the race, but that is easily the worst part of my training. It is just very unpleasant to run at >90% of max capacity. I even prefer 15 mile long runs over intervals.
  • WTF is worng with the human body? It should let me do what I do, not what my great great great great grand fathers did. For all the virtues that are claimed about exercice the fact remains it is a bother...

    Please doctors, just fix the whole excercise problem. But fix the sleeping problem first, that easly consumes more lifetimes than excercise all types of cancer combined.

  • by rrohbeck ( 944847 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @10:46PM (#39055141)

    The 90s called and wanted their exercise article back.

  • by ignavus ( 213578 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2012 @11:44PM (#39055589)

    Dr Ken Cooper - the guy who invented aerobics and published back in the 1970s - was answering this question more or less. He was a US Air Force doctor and had access to thousands of subjects for testing. He wanted to answer the question: "How much exercise do I *need* to do, when a doctor tells me to get `more' exercise?"

    Basically, after a 13 week conditioning program of gradually increasing exersion, his program settles down into walking 4 miles in 55 minutes, three times a week. This is not that burdensome. And there are many alternatives to walking: swimming, running/jogging, cycling, playing various vigorous sports like squash, etc. He worked out age and activity based tables for mixing and matching various activities to achieve the weekly exercise goal - all based on research into basic aerobic fitness.

  • Russian Kettlebells (Score:4, Informative)

    by JerkBoB ( 7130 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @12:04AM (#39055747)

    Not a whole lot more to say on the subject. Do some swings and get-ups once or twice a day, and you'll be fit and trim. Unless you eat trash and guzzle carbonated sugar water all day. In which case, you're fucked no matter what you do.

  • by Doofus ( 43075 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @12:57AM (#39056159)
    and therein lies the problem.

    HIIT has actually been around and been discussed in running groups for a number of years. Lest you think I am pulling this from where the sun doesn't shine, I write this from some personal experience; I am an experienced ultramarathoner (six 50 milers). HIIT is extremely difficult for "normal" people to do as an ongoing exercise program.

    The great majority of Americans are simply not capable of pushing themselves as hard as is required for a successful HIIT regimen. If you're not capable of pushing yourself to do this type of strenuous exercise, you're not going to do it. It's as simple as that.

    HIIT will work extraordinarily well for people that are already moderately fit or even overweight if they are capable of pushing through their pain (not the physical pain, the mental pain). Again, and again, and again; and each iteration is harder than the last.

    Most people - especially the great unwashed overweight masses (pun intended) - aren't willing or capable of doing this, and simply aren't going to do it. They would be better served starting out just walking briskly for 30 minutes four or five times a week.
  • by chilvence ( 1210312 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @10:04AM (#39058965)

    Ride a BIKE

    I smoke, drink, and eat some godawful crap, I'm nearly 30 and I still run up and down stairs two at a time like a ten year old. Because rather than all this pretentious exercise, I go out and play in the mud once a week like god intended!

    This fitness freak thing is really getting old. People don't avoid the gym because they are lazy, they avoid it because they DONT WANT TO BE LIKE YOU!

  • by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Thursday February 16, 2012 @01:43PM (#39062541)

    Short, intense bursts with light effort in between?
    20 minutes a day?
    Twice a week?

    BRB interval training/taking a shit.

Thufir's a Harkonnen now.