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Can you get fit on just 3 minutes exercise a week?

HIT exercise in 3 minutes imageArticle by Anne Elliott

Did you see it, the BBC ‘Horizon’ programme about exercising? It was fascinating. The main premise was that if you exercise for 3 minutes a week, you can make a substantial impact on your fitness levels. What you need to do is get on an exercise bicycle and pedal as absolutely fast as you can for 20 seconds then slow down for 2 minutes then 20 seconds then slow for 2 minutes, then 20 seconds then rest. That’s only 1 minute of exercise in a day and you do this 3 times a week.

HIT (High Intensity Training)

It’s called HIT (high intensity training) and it has a direct effect on two significant health aspects: The first is its ability to improve your VO2 Max. That’s a measure of your aerobic fitness. The other thing is that it can improve your insulin sensitivity by an average of 24%. It is believed that such hard exercise can activate up to 80% of muscle cells, which is much more than usual exercise activities. The intensity of the exercise uses up the glycogen in the muscle, which means glucose can be brought in from the bloodstream and changed into glycogen to replace it. Type 2 diabetes may result when insulin sensitivity goes wrong, so any way of keeping it under control is brilliant. There are so many of us that are overweight and the heavier we get the more at risk we are from contracting Diabetes.

 Middle age requires awareness of bone density and muscle mass

As brilliant a discovery as it is, it isn’t a miracle cure all for the 80% of the population that do no exercise. The first thing to be aware of is that this system is working the aerobic system but middle age requires we are also mindful of things like bone density and keeping hold of muscle mass. This will need us to do resistance or weight bearing exercise. The HIT system will not help here. It was also explained that in the research done into HIT, it was observed that of all the people they tested there were 20% to whom the system worked brilliantly, and there were 20% of people to whom it was ineffective. This was a revelation, the fact that hard exercise might not have any effect on some people. Everyone else in the study, as expected, came somewhere in the middle.

It has been very interesting to talk to people since who had also seen it. A lot of people (who are not exercisers) said to me, ‘I bet I’m one of the 20% to whom it shows no benefit’. It did make me wonder that if we could ask the 80% of the country who don’t exercise if they thought they were one of the 20% for whom exercise is ineffective, how big the percentage would be!

Importance of resistance training for bone density

As a resolute exerciser, I will certainly be modifying my approach and making the most of this new knowledge. I will incorporate this HIT system into my daily practice but I’ll still do my resistance training because I know that I’ve got to keep hold of the bone and muscle I’ve got. However, I don’t want to lose the occasional long distance walk or 40 minute run because they just make me feel good. Its not just about gritting your teeth and getting it done, like taking foul tasting medicine. Exercise is fun and makes me feel good. It makes me feel fit and healthy and makes me feel like I’ve used my body well. Its part of who I am. The psychological side of physical activity should not be underestimated.

A final thought for those of you who have decided to have a go at the HIT system; if you have been relatively sedentary to date, check first with your GP. This exercise is very intense and you might find that you have to prepare and do some gentler exercise to start with. Take professional advice and make sure your effort is worth it and you get the very best out of it you can.

Photo credit: healing dream


ANNE ELLIOTT is 52. She has a Personal Training Practice that specialises in working with middle-aged clients and their associated health problems. She lectures in Sports Science at Middlesex University, is an ABAE boxing referee, is registered with REPS at Level 4 and is undertaking a Doctorate in exercise in middle age. Anne appears regularly in the media talking about her specialisation - exercise in middle age.

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  1. Silvia Edit Fabian

    March 21, 2012

    It is a very complex summary about regular exercises. And Anne Elliot pointed the main thing: The feelings. I advise you visitors to find the best practices for yourself which you can really enjoy.
    Do exercise not because you have to, but bacause of you adore those like Anne Elliott does. She loves them and she shows up to you what you will feel if you find your way. Do it, enjoy it if you would like to be healthier and would feel better.
    OK. I know it is not as easy as it sounds. You need to change your philosophy of life maybe. But you could win more than you have ever thought. Anne’s site is a good place to learn how you can do it.
    I wish you easy learning,
    (I am a foreigner, sorry for my English.)

    • Ceri Wheeldon

      March 21, 2012

      Silvia, thank you for your thoughts on this -your English is great – not sure I’d be brave enough to comment in a second language- despite having a French husband ! You are absolutely right about finding exercise you enjoy-far easier if you find something you look forward to !

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