We parents worry about our children getting enough exercise — but what about ourselves? Are we all leading by example and also getting enough exercise? Surveys show that most adults both here in China and in countries like the USA don’t get the recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise or 90 minutes of strong exercise. So for those of us (including myself) who rarely exercise, what can we do to correct this?
New research shows that short, intense exercise may be just as good for your health as longer workouts. Literally a 4 to 7 minute workout is helpful! It’s called high intensity interval training, which basically includes 30 seconds of all-out exercise followed by 10 second breaks, repeated up to 15 minutes. It could be something as simple as squat thrusts, but you can look up “7 minute workout” on my website or Google and see other routines. This 7 minute workout got a lot of publicity a few months ago after being published in a research journal. It’s a shortened version of circuit training, where you rotate your exercises between focused muscle groups, and finishing the entire routine ideally will have covered all muscle groups. Trust me, the next day your muscles will be feeling both that anaerobic achiness and aerobic burn!
One additional benefit of this particular 7 minute cycle is that you don’t need any weights or machines — just your own body, a wall and a chair. You could also repeat this cycle one of two more times for added benefit. It’s important to take those 10 second breaks between reps as it increases the healthy metabolic response. You will definitely need help keeping track of these seconds, and I found a wide collection of apps for smartphones and tablets which can be custom set to beep at the correct intervals. Just search your app store for HIIT, Tabata or “interval timer” and take your pick. One website at 7-minute-workout.net nicely tracks your 7 minute workout.
The key here for all these HIIT routines is is to really push yourself, not take a leisurely pace. In terms of intensity, most of the research papers’ recommendations mention feeling “unpleasant” or “discomforting” after you finish. Many papers also mention something called VO2max, which generally correlates to 100% of your maximum heart rate. The formula for maximum workout heart rate, calculated in a 2001 research paper, is 208 – .7 * age. You should shoot for at least 80% of your maximum heart rate after finishing your routine.
I think this type of evidence-based exercise research is powerful and certainly has altered my usual speech to patients. I previously would always mention the usual recommended minutes of exercise (150 moderate, 90 intense per week) but now can make it even more appealing: 15 minutes, three times a week. But HIIT definitely isn’t for everyone. I don’t think HIIT would appeal to people who already exercise or play sports. And data is still lacking on the long-term benefits and risk reductions from HIIT. I also don’t think that HIIT is appropriate for most kids — they should be getting their recommended 30 minutes of exercise a day from routine gym glasses and after school activities. But for the silent majority of adults who struggle with exercise or always think they don’t have enough time, HIIT routines could be the perfect solution for you.