No time to workout? Don’t be so certain.
So you’re trying to get started on a workout regimen. Great! What’s the biggest challenge of actually adhering to one? Time. Everyone would agree that it is extremely hard to find time to get into the gym. You finally make it to the gym and you’ve been told that it is at least an hour of time expenditure or you’ll never get anywhere. When you add in travel time, getting changed, and showering, it’s no wonder so many people share this concern. It is very hard to balance everything in our lives as it is without adding in taking care of our health; however, that doesn’t mean that all is lost or that you should give up.
So what’s the good news? You don’t have to spend as much time in the gym as you once thought to experience the positive effects associated with it. Recent research has shown that there are a number of very positive correlations with doing short, moderate to high-intensity workouts. The average gym-goer comes to the gym expecting that they must be there for a whole hour of low intensity, long duration boredom. Given this new research, though, that is not necessarily true. The benefits of a short workout can equal or even exceed the benefits of a long one.
Research done at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario suggests that short, higher intensity training bouts are both efficient and effective, stating that “doing ten one-minute sprints on a standard stationary bike with one minute rest in between, three times a week works as well at improving muscle as many hours of conventional long-term biking at a steady, low pace.” This is exciting information because it demonstrates that even twenty minutes can be as effective as a whole hour at changing one’s physique. Note that they don’t say that longer bouts are not effective or that you shouldn’t do them but that by increasing intensity shorter ones are just as effective or more so.
Not only does a short but intense workout benefit the way your body looks but also there are multiple benefits in regards to bone and joint health. In an article published by the American College of Rheumatology, de Jong et al found that a “high-intensity, weight bearing exercise program for rheumatoid arthritis patients is effective in slowing down the loss of bone mineral density at the hip. The exercise modalities associated with this effect are muscle strength and aerobic fitness. In this respect, only exercises of moderate or high intensity have been proven effective”. This research goes against the advice given to arthritis patients by doctors for years that they should stick to longer less intense exercise to avoid inflammation. Even for the average population this is important too because it shows that moderate to higher intensity exercise changes bone density better than the alternative.
There is also evidence that a short, high-intensity workout can improve cardiovascular health. The American Journal of Cardiology states that peak oxygen uptake is increased by “short bouts of moderate-intensity exercise” and even goes so far to say in regards to 10 to 30 minute workouts “for many individuals short bouts of exercise training may fit better”. Peak oxygen uptake is the ability of the lungs to process oxygen and deliver it to your body. Essentially, this means making you cardiovascularly more fit. This suggests that we can have the same benefit from less time simply by increasing intensity.
Another important thing to note about short bouts of exercise at moderate to high intensities is that they positively affect hormone balance. In a study done examining long versus short bouts of exercise, growth hormone levels were measured and it was noted by Felsing et al that “a minimum duration of 10 minute, high intensity exercise consistently increased circulating growth hormone.” This finding is significant because growth hormone has so many important roles in the body including calcium retention, recovery, increasing lean body mass, protein synthesis, stimulating the immune system and regulating many body functions. With such a laundry list of benefits, it is easy to understand why we would want to have higher levels in our body. The easiest way to describe growth hormone release in our body is that we will tend to have more lean body mass, less fat, and better overall health.
The research that has been presented here shows that short, moderate to high-intensity exercise has a wide range of value including joint and bone health, looking better, better cardio, and encouraging health and recovery. The research by no means says that longer workouts are invalid, but it does free us of the misconception that every workout must be the same. Based on this information we know that intensity is more of a factor than time so manage your workout well and use what time you have. If you have 10 to 30 minutes you can still make significant progress in a variety of areas and keep up with the rest of your life as well. As always, to make your workout program as effective and efficient as possible see a fitness professional to help guide you toward your goals.
Alternate one-minute sprints and one minute rest for 15-30 minutes depending on your schedule. Do this three times a week on a standard stationary bike.