One of the biggest excuses for not exercising is being short on time, but a growing body of research shows that staying in shape takes a lot less time than most people think and can easily be squeezed into an hour lunch break (including a shower).
They key is to work out harder, not longer.
Many health groups have drummed into our heads that we need to do 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity exercise five days a week, totaling at least 150 minutes. But according to the Physical Activity Guidelines published by the National Institutes of Health, 75 minutes a week of high intensity physical activity can significantly lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes and depression. That’s only 15 minutes a day, five days a week.
If going all out for 15 minutes doesn’t sound like your thing, you can get the same improvements by doing 10 short, 60-second intervals. According to researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, young men who did high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, which involved 30 seconds of all-out effort at 100 percent of their maximum heart rate, saw similar improvements in their leg muscles as those who did multiple, hour-long sessions of steady cycling, and spent 90 percent more time exercising.
The researchers then developed a modified version of HIIT, which may be more practical for many people because working out at 100 percent of your maximum heart rate is tough. It entails one- minute intervals at 90 percent max (you shouldn’t be able to talk when working out this hard). This can be done by pedaling fast on a stationary bicycle or sprinting for one minute. Then take a one-minute rest. Repeat it 10 times for a total of 20 minutes. When unfit subjects performed this routine, they also experienced significant improvements in their health and fitness.
If you’re more of a gym rat, you’re in luck. Many gyms are offering “express” workouts based on this high-intensity interval concept.
To make the most of your express workout, follow these tips:
- Get clearance from your doctor to do a high-intensity workout.
- Warm up for two to three minutes and warm down at the end of your workout
- Wear a heart rate monitor to make sure you’re reaching 90 percent of your maximum heart rate (maximum heart rate is roughly 220 minus your age).
Laurie Tarkan is an award-winning health journalist whose work appears in the New York Times, among other national magazines and websites. She has authored several health books, including "Perfect Hormone Balance for Fertility." Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.