Interval training can achieve the same results as a traditional workout in less than a third of the time according to new research published Feb. 1 in The Journal of Physiology. Interval training is a repetitive cycle of short bursts of extreme effort spaced by longer periods of low effort. Over the past few years researchers have been learning that this particular type of exercise regimen is exceptionally good at improving insulin sensitivity and aerobic performance.
Exercise to improve insulin sensitivity and a restricted carbohydrate diet are the two most effective treatment approaches for managing polcystic ovarian syndrome. Studies have shown that they are more effective at reducing the further development of metabolic syndrome than the drug metformin.
Sport and exercise scientists at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and the University of Birmingham, under the lead of Professor Anton Wagenmakers, have been investigating how to exercise smarter, for better results in less time. Their study expands upon the research published in 2009 by researchers from the Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland which found that just seven and a half minutes a week made a tremendous difference:
“The efficacy of a high intensity exercise protocol, involving only ~250 kcal of work each week, to substantially improve insulin action in young sedentary subjects is remarkable. This novel time-efficient training paradigm can be used as a strategy to reduce metabolic risk factors in young and middle aged sedentary populations who otherwise would not adhere to time consuming traditional aerobic exercise regimes.”
The current recommendation of the World Health Organisation (WHO) is that people of all ages should do three to five hours of endurance training per week to increase health and fitness and prevent chronic diseases and premature mortality. Most people, however, find it difficult to set aside this much time in their busy lives.
This study has taken existing research to a new level to prove that replacing endurance training with two types of interval training, High intensity Interval Training (HIT) and Sprint Interval Training (SIT), can make a massive difference to our health and aerobic fitness. In two articles in the current issue of The Journal of Physiology, the researchers describe their recent discoveries that three sessions of SIT, taking just 90 min per week, are as effective as five sessions of traditional endurance exercise, taking five hours per week, in increasing whole body insulin sensitivity via two independent mechanisms.
LJMU researcher Matthew Cocks explains: 'One mechanism involves improved delivery of insulin and glucose to the skeletal muscle and the other involves improved burning of the fat stored in skeletal muscle fibres. Additionally, we found a reduced stiffness of large arteries which is important in reducing the risk of vascular disease.'
On the basis of these novel and earlier findings from other laboratories, Professor Wagenmakers expects that HIT and SIT will turn out to be unique alternative exercise modes suitable to prevent blood vessel disease, hypertension, diabetes and most of the other ageing and obesity related chronic diseases.
LJMU researcher Sam Shepherd describes: 'SIT involves four to six repeated 30 second 'all out' sprints on special laboratory bikes interspersed with 4.5 minutes of very low intensity cycling. Due to the very high workload of the sprints, this method is more suitable for young and healthy individuals. However, anyone of any age or level of fitness can follow one of the alternative HIT programmes which involve 15-60 second bursts of high intensity cycling interspersed with 2-4 minute intervals of low intensity cycling. HIT can be delivered on simple spinning bikes that are present in commercial gyms and are affordable for use at home or in the workplace.'
Lack of time is the number one reason that the majority of the adult population do not meet the current physical activity recommendations. SIT and HIT could solve this problem.
Sam Shepherd comments: 'A pilot study currently ongoing in the Sports Centre at the University of Birmingham has also shown that previously sedentary individuals in the age-range of 25-60 also find HIT on spinning bikes much more enjoyable and attractive than endurance training and it has a more positive effect on mood and feelings of well-being. This could imply that HIT is more suitable to achieve sustainable changes in exercise behaviour.'
HIT, therefore, seems to provide the ideal alternative to outdoor running, dangerous cycling trips and long boring endurance cycling sessions in health and fitness gyms. That is why the researchers believe that there will be a great future for HIT for obese and elderly individuals and potentially also for patients with hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Simple examples of HIIT that could easily fit into your everyday life might include:
- running up a few flights of stairs for 30 seconds
- sprinting up the street or around the block for 30 seconds
- strenuously punching a punching bag for 30 seconds
- doing star jumps for 30 seconds
- skipping rope for 30 seconds
High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT has become popular in recent years as an alternative to long hard slogs at the gym or on the field. HIIT provides the same or better aerobic and fat burning benefits as traditional forms of exercise but with a much reduced time commitment involved.
Doing almost anything strenuous for only 30 seconds at a time will help you increase your insulin sensitivity tremendously and everyone can do this. Sometimes it is hard to fit a half hour exercise session into our day, but everyone can fit at least one 30 second session into their day, every single day. It takes hardly any time, no preparation and probably won’t even make you sweat!
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Cocks, M. (2013-02-01) Sprint interval and endurance training are equally effective in increasing muscle microvascular density and eNOS content in sedentary males. , 591(3), 641-656. DOI: 10.1113/jphysiol.2012.239566