Is three minutes a week of vigorous exercise all you need to get fit? Scientists say ideal fitness regime involves intense bursts of activity
Sounds like a recipe for a heart attack to me
There is welcome news for anyone who’s resolved to get fit in the New Year. Scientists claim we don’t have to spend hours every week slogging in the gym or jogging around a park in all weathers, along with the other January resolution makers.
Instead, they advocate a pioneering new quick fitness regime that makes remarkable claims: just a few 30-second bursts of intense exercise, amounting to only three minutes a week, could deliver the health and weight-loss benefits of hours of lengthy, conventional regimes.
This may revolutionise our ability to stick to New Year fitness resolutions, which only one in five of us manage to keep for more than a few weeks.
A study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found the main reason we break resolutions is that our plans are over-ambitious: we set the bar too high in a hopelessly optimistic burst of post-Christmas enthusiasm.
But this new exercise regime lowers that bar significantly. Scientists at the universities of Nottingham, Birmingham and Bath say the secret is to commit yourself to three short bursts of highly intense exercise for 30 seconds each, with short rest periods between, in less than five minutes.
They claim early results are ground-breaking and may lead to conventional medical textbooks on exercise being torn up. Instead of sweating for hours, scientists say we should hurl ourselves around on an exercise bike or rowing machine — or even just run rapidly up and down the stairs at home.
After half a minute of wild exertion, we can collapse red-faced for 60 seconds, then do it all again. Three bouts like that means your exercise requirement for that session is sorted.
Late last year, the scientific team behind this regime launched a large-scale trial involving 300 volunteers to fully test their system. It could be just the tonic for couch-potato Britain.
For despite constant nagging from government and health professionals, the vast majority of us still don’t follow the official NHS advice to do at least 30 minutes of brisk exercise five times a week, plus two sessions of muscle-strengthening exercise such as weight-training, push-ups or heavy gardening.
More than 60 per cent of men and 70 per cent of women admit that they don’t manage that. Lack of time is our most common excuse.
As a result, millions of Britons suffer early death and unnecessary disability due to lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
But the answer for many could be quick and simple.
The ongoing study is led by leading exercise expert Jamie Timmons, a professor of systems biology. The team call their system High Intensity Impact Training (HIIT).
So far, their tests on hundreds of unfit middle-aged volunteers in Britain and Canada over the past eight years have shown those three minutes of exercise a week deliver the same significant health improvements as can be achieved through hours in the gym or on the running track.
But scientists do not yet entirely understand why the short-burst exercise regime so profoundly boosts volunteers’ stamina and the fitness of their lungs, heart and blood vessels.
‘The truthful answer is we do not fully understand this,’ says Professor Timmons. ‘But a growing body of independent research shows this is the case and that the textbook explanation of the science of exercise requires revision.’
As for weight loss, the results from conventional long hours of exercise regimes often prove disappointing.
Typically, exercisers get themselves into trouble by eating more than they do normally because strenuous gym sessions leave them ravenous.
Brief, high-intensity exercise does not stimulate appetite as much, because it demands far less energy expenditure, so participants in the trial don’t suffer the same cravings.
What’s more, it appears to do something even more beneficial, according to Professor Timmons.
‘We have found that people feel their appetites are suppressed,’ he says. ‘We should have the final evidence for this next year.’
The regime should also raise people’s metabolic rates after they stop exercising, as it builds muscle — and this tissue makes metabolisms run faster. In turn, this stimulates the breakdown of fat and burns calories.
Timmons’ team also speculates that high-intensity training uses far more muscle tissue than aerobic exercise.
They say: ‘Cycling really vigorously uses not just the leg muscles, but also the upper body including arms and shoulders, so 80 per cent of the body’s muscle cells can be activated, compared to 20 to 40 per cent for walking or moderate intensity jogging or cycling.’
It will be about two years, though, before the British scientists publish their full findings as part of a Europe-wide study. In the meantime, they point out: ‘You don’t need a scientific explanation to enjoy the benefits.’
The team’s theories about short-burst exercise are increasingly supported by other research.
Australian scientists last June found sprint training for 60 minutes a week is as effective in burning male body fat as jogging for seven hours per week.
The study, led by Steve Boutcher at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, recruited 50 overweight men for short, high-intensity cycle sprints.
They had to sprint for eight seconds on an exercise bike followed by 12 seconds’ recovery in a training cycle lasting 20 minutes and repeated three times a week over 12 weeks.
Boutcher reported in the Journal Of Obesity that by the end, the volunteers, who were in their 20s, lost on average 4lb of abdominal fat and increased their muscle mass.
Importantly, they had also reduced fat around their liver, kidneys and other internal organs by 17 per cent.
This is the fat most strongly linked with an increased risk for cardio- vascular disease.
‘Other studies using aerobic exercise have found the amount of exercise needed to produce a similar decrease in visceral fat was about seven hours per week for 14 weeks,’ says Professor Boutcher.
He believes he has found a crucial clue as to why high-intensity regimes may work. Rapid bursts of muscle movement appear to flood the blood with hormones called catecholamines.
These break down fat stores in the body, and burn them up as energy. By comparison, conventional moderate exercise such as cycling for 40 minutes does not raise the blood-levels of catecholamines much at all.
And the professor has discovered another trick for raising levels of these catecholamine hormones in the blood: drink green tea after high-intensity exercise. ‘The tea stops the hormones from being degraded, so they keep burning fat for longer,’ he says.
Tests on women have found fat-loss increases significantly if they drink the tea after exercising. Three minutes of exercise and a cup of tea to follow?
Has there ever been such an appealing New Year exercise regime?
Make high levels of fat, sugar and salt in children's food ILLEGAL, say British Labour Party
Fascism is never far beneath the surface among Leftists
Labour will today propose new legal limits on levels of fat, sugar and salt in children's food. Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham will say urgent action must be considered to tackle spiralling levels of obesity. [Does he have any evidence that what he asks will do any good?]
One option to be considered in the party's public policy health review is to outlaw products with more than a maximum level of fat, sugar and salt which are targeted at children to try to reverse the trend.
Kellog's Frosties and Tesco Choco Snaps cereals, both high in sugar could be under threat if a cap on limits in children's foods is made law - Frosties has 37g of sugar per 100g and Tesco Choco Snaps has 36.1g per 100g
A consultation paper identifies a number of breakfast cereals containing more than 30 per cent sugar according to research by Which?, including Kellogg's Frosties, with 37.0g of sugar per 100g and Tesco Choco Snaps with 36.1g per 100g.
The latest research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), shows that in the UK, 26.6 per cent of girls and 22.7 per cent of boys are now considered 'obese'.
Meanwhile, the National Child Measurement Programme last month reported that one-third of children in England are either overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school. Overweight children are at a greater risk of developing diabetes and cancer.
Mr Burnham said: 'The findings of the OECD should shock us out of our complacency. It is clear that the current voluntary approach is not working. We need to open our minds to new approaches in tackling child obesity.
'Labour wants to lead this debate. That is why we are asking the public and experts if new limits for sugar, fats and salts would be the right approach. Like all parents, I have bought products like cereals and fruit drinks, marketed as more healthy, that contained higher sugar levels than expected. I don't think that any parent would be comfortable with their child eating something that is 40 per cent sugar.
Mr Burnham has begun consulting with the public and experts on the issue, and is considering proposing a 30 per cent cap on sugar in cereals.
'The Government has failed to come up with a convincing plan to tackle this challenge. If we fail to act on the OECD's warning we are storing up huge problems for the country and the NHS in the long term. That is why Labour is calling for new thinking and why we're initiating today's consultation.'
Professor Gabriel Scally, former regional director of public health at the Department of Health, said: 'The continued rise in childhood obesity is an urgent call to action and must not be ignored.
'I applaud the Labour Party for tackling the issue of the foodstuffs filling our children with the empty calories that fuel obesity. Helping parents protect and promote the future health of our children is exactly what we need to be doing.'
Paul Wheeler, of Kellogg's, said: 'Frosties has been on sale for more than 60 years and by now we think people know there's sugar in them - we're not hiding it.
'The problem with ideas like this is they want an easy, silver bullet solution to what is a very difficult issue. It all boils down to the fact we believe parents, and not the government, should choose what their kids eat.'
A Department of Health spokesman said: 'By working with industry through the Responsibility Deal we have helped to reduce fat, sugar and salt in foods.
'There is now less salt in the food we buy, companies are cutting and capping calories and artificial trans fats are being widely taken out of food.'
The spokesman added: 'We are working to reduce the amount of salt in food further, cut saturated fat consumption and we are exploring how to promote healthier food choices more widely. We also want more businesses making pledges so we get bigger results.'