As parents, we worry about our children getting enough exercise – but what about ourselves? Surveys show that most adults in China and the US don’t get the recommended amount of exercise per week. How can we correct this?
New research shows that short bouts of intensive exercise may be just as good for your health as longer workouts. Even a four to seven minute workout can help. This type of “high-intensity interval training” (HIIT) includes 30 seconds of all-out exercise followed by ten-second breaks, repeated for up to 15 minutes.
A few months ago, the seven-minute workout received a lot of publicity after being written about in a research journal. It’s basically a shorter version of circuit training. You rotate exercises between focused muscle groups; the routine should ideally cover them all. Trust me: The next day, your body will be feeling both anaerobic achiness and aerobic burn.
Another advantage of the seven-minute cycle is that no weights or machines are needed – just a wall and a chair. You can repeat the cycle two or three times for added benefit. However, don’t forget to take those ten-second breaks between reps as they increase your body’s healthy metabolic response. You will need to keep time; I found many smart phone and tablet apps that can be set to beep at the correct intervals. Just search your app store for HIIT, Tabata, or “interval timer.” One website (7-7-minute-workout.net) can track your session.
The key to HIIT routines is to really push yourself. In terms of intensity, most of the research mentions that participants should feel “unpleasant” after the workout. Many papers also mention VO2max, which correlates to 100 percent of your maximum heart rate. The formula for maximum workout heart rate is 208-(0.7 multiplied by your age). For instance, the VO2max for a 30-year-old would be 208-(0.7*30) = 187 bpm. By the end of your routine, you should have reached at least 80 percent of your maximum heart rate.
This type of evidence-based research is powerful enough to have altered my usual speech to patients. Previously, I recommended the usual 150 minutes of moderate or 90 minutes of intensive exercise per week but I can now suggest something more appealing: just 15 minutes of exercise three times a week.
However, HIIT definitely isn’t for everyone. For one thing, I doubt it would appeal to people who already exercise or play sports. Secondly, data is still lacking on the long-term risks and benefits of HIIT. In addition, HIIT is not appropriate for most kids. Instead, they should be getting 30 minutes of exercise a day from regular gym glasses and after-school activities.
But for the majority of adults who struggle with exercise or think they don’t have enough time, HIIT routines could be the perfect solution.
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Dr.Richard Saint Cyr is a family doctor at Beijing United Family Hospital, and the director of clinical marketing and communications. He runs the blog www.myhealthbeijing.com
photo courtesy of Flickr user pall@s
This article originally appeared on p27 of the beijingkids October 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com