Mitigate heart-disease risk by exercising for seven minutes a week

Last week's edition of Quirks and Quarks (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's national science show) had a fascinating piece on some new research on very high-intensity, very short-duration exercise regimes. The research, conducted by Dr. Jamie Timmons, an exercise biologist at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, investigated the immediate and short-term benefits of a six-minute-per-week exercise regime consisting of multiple regular sets of hard sprinting on an exercise bicycle. The conclusion was that this very short, intense workout schedule burns lots of excess glycogen from muscle tissue, which means that free glucose in the blood can be absorbed by muscles before doing damage to the cardiovascular system. In other words, a sizable fraction of the cardiovascular benefits from the recommended seven-hour-per-week aerobic exercise can be realized in minutes.

Now, of course it's better to exercise for seven hours a week. But of course, most people don't. If it's a choice between seven minutes and seven hours, seven hours is the way to go. But if it's a choice between seven minutes and nothing, seven minutes is surprisingly worthwhile.

Yes, it sounds like another one of those fly-by-night fitness fads, but there's some pretty solid evidence that short, intense bursts of exercise do have some pretty impressive effects. Dr. Jamie Timmons, an exercise biologist at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, has been looking at how little exercise we can do and still get the protective benifits of being active -- specifically, prevention of diabetes and heart disease. Dr. Timmons has found that doing four 30-second sprints on a stationary bike, twice a week, is as effective at preventing disease as much more time-intensive regimes.

The No-Sweat Workout