I get it—we all have busy lives. But we don't think twice about sitting on our couch and binge-watching a series on Netflix, so why is it that we're constantly trying to cut down how much time we spend working out?
We all know the health benefits of exercise, and new research comes out daily reminding us of all great things fitness has to offer. Recently, a New York Times article about a study published in PLOS One comparing one minute of intense exercise to 45 minutes of moderate steady-state exercise on a stationary bike did its rounds online. The results concluded that "one minute of arduous exercise was comparable in its physiological effects to 45 minutes of gentler sweating."
As a certified personal trainer, there are tons of things I find troubling with the study and article's assumptions.
- Most frustrating is the headline, comparing one minute of intense exercise to 45 minutes of moderate steady state exercise. That single "minute" was actually 10 minutes broken up into a two-minute warm-up, followed by three all-out sprints for 20 seconds alternating with active recovery (riding at a very slow pace) for two minutes, finishing with a cooldown for three minutes. (FYI: They did this 3 times a week for 12 weeks.)
- The study only sampled 27 "out-of-shape young men" (two of which dropped out for reasons unrelated to the study). That's far too small a sample group to be seriously considered. Additionally, six of the active participants were the control group who performed no physical activity.
- The study only measured the participants' aerobic capacity, insulin sensitivity, and muscle function (at a cellular level). That's it. Nothing else. And remember, it was a small sample group and a myriad of other factors possibly played a role. From what the study measures, the results aren't really that surprising. If you ask someone who is deconditioned to perform any type of regular physical activity, positive physical changes are going to take place.
Many studies that look at interval training require going "all out" for X amount of time—but have you ever truly gone all out for even 20-seconds? It's not pretty; in fact, it's pretty hard. Not many people are going to want to repeat that over and over again, especially someone new to working out. So any time you see a workout that is seven minutes or less, realize that it still requires all-out, super intense effort. Shorter isn't necessarily easier.
Working out is one of the few things in life that is completely fair—you get out exactly what you put in. It's true that if you're working out to maintain a minimum level of activity, you won't need to spend as much time or effort. That 10-minute series of bursts might be enough. If you're working out to make visible changes for an upcoming wedding, vacation, or just to feel and look better, however, it's going to require more of a time investment.
We need to stop the trend of looking at working out like "how little exercise can I get away with?" Instead, we need to think, "how can I make this fun?" Chances are if you're already having fun with your workouts, you're not going to try to cut back on how much time you spend doing it! Instead of doing something that you loathe, find something you enjoy. Changing your mindset and relationship with working out from negative to positive can completely change the game. There's too much variety out there to just say, "I hate working out."
If time is your concern, I've worked with everyone from CEOs and celebrities to college students. No one has ever said they have so much time on their hands, they don't know what to do with themselves. We're all busy—it's about prioritizing. If we look honestly at our schedules, we can all find 30 to 60 minutes to fit in a fun, killer workout a few times a week. My YouTube channel has routines ranging from 10 to 60 minutes, and there are plenty of workouts on Fitnessmagazine.com to help you cut time down and maximize your burn. And if you can have fun while you do it, you'll be way more likely to stick with it for the long haul. One minute of exercise will seem like a travesty instead of a triumph.