You may have noticed (or perhaps soon will) this article from the NY Times earlier today with an enticing headline: Only a single minute of high intensity exercise can replace 45 minutes of moderate exercise. This seems like good news for those of us who are always pressed for time to find time for exercise. But we need to delve into the details of this study before drawing broad conclusions about the optimal duration of exercise.
The study in question showed that an exercise routine using high intensity exercise for one minute of total duration (in a routine that took 10 minutes total including warmup and rest periods) had similar benefits to a longer routine of moderate exercise in this study group of 25 subjects. It suggests that incorporating intervals of high intensity exercise can shorten the amount of time needed to obtain long-lasting health benefits.
I do think this is an enticing concept and it is a very good reminder that adding interval training can be quite beneficial to our health and our fitness goals. But we need to remember why we advocate for physical activity for wellness and disease prevention. Exercise should not be a “bitter medicine” taken as quickly as possible, but should be considered a desired component of our day-to-day lifestyle. Therefore I think that moderate exercise, such as brisk or sustained walking, as well as light jogging, can have much broader benefits, such as improving our mental state, helping concentration and sleep, and of course improving our long-term health and disease prevention.
This article is certainly a useful reminder that adding intervals to exercise, for those of us who are physically able, can help us reach our fitness goals quicker and more successfully. However, these type of programs can also increase the risk of injury or worsen underlying medical conditions. Therefore, high intensity exercise regimens should only be undertaken with the guidance of a fitness professional, and for those with chronic heart or other medical conditions, with the approval of our personal physician or health care provider.