Science is showing that you don’t need to spend hours at the gym to increase your health and fitness. In fact, just short intense intervals can have the same benefits as a longer workout. Kim Parlee talks to Martin Gibala, Exercise Scientist and author of The One-Minute Workout.
OK. So let's talk a bit about the one-minute workout. Is it true? Is one minute really all you need to get fit?
One minute of hard exercise will do it. The key, of course, is that it has to be broken up into a couple of intervals, which seems to be important.
OK. So tell me-- when you say broke in a couple intervals, am I exercising for 30 minutes and then doing five minutes off and one minute on? Or what does that look?
No, our classic protocol, 10 minutes start to finish. So that includes a warm-up and a cool-down. And within that, three 20-second bursts of very hard exercise broken up by a couple of minutes.
Why does that work? I was reading, I think, some research that you had in there that the benefits for someone who's sedentary, if they-- I think it was 150 minutes of traditional endurance training-- if they only do 80% of that, the one minute, they're getting the same results. Why is that? Why does that actually work physiologically?
Sure. The best analogy I can use is a fuel gauge. And so your body has these molecular fuel gauges. And they sense that energy goes down over time. So with the traditional approach to exercise, you drop the fuel gauges slowly over time, the body responds to that and adapts. With intervals, you're hitting the body really hard. So you can think of stepping on a gas pedal, dropping the fuel gauges very quickly. And what it appears is that the body responds in the same way. So it doesn't matter how you drop the fuel gauges, slow over time or really quickly, the adaptation's quite similar.
What about when you're a little bit older? I'm not saying that's me. But if you're a little bit older and you do these one-minute intense workouts, can you hurt yourself? What are the chances of heart problems or just full-out injuries?
I think the message is that interval training can be scaled to any level of starting fitness. So we wouldn't suggest that a sedentary 65-year-old individual would just jump off the couch and start pedaling their hearts out. But there's just emerging research that interval training, properly scaled, can be applied to people with Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, even older individuals. So I think scaling it is the key.
How do you start? So someone's saying, this sounds fantastic, I have no time. I can do 10 minutes. I couldn't do the 150. How do you actually start? When you talk about scaling, how do I know what my baseline is?
Yeah. We'll tell people, just get out of your comfort zone. So even if your only exercise is going for a walk around the block at night, an interval session for you is picking up the pace for a few light posts and then backing off. So just so you're slightly a little bit more out of breath or you feel your pulse up a little bit higher than usual. And there's research to show that even that approach, gentle interval walking, is better for you than just continuous, steady-state walking for things like boosting your fitness and improving your blood sugar.
I was reading as well, you said that part of the reason this perhaps works is it resembles natural play, which I think is interesting. So tell me a bit about that.
Yeah. Well, if you watch kids in a playground, no one sort of jogs at a moderate pace for 30 minutes or so. And so I think one of the beautiful things about interval training is that it's so variable. And so the best exercise for you is something you like, you enjoy. You're more likely to stick with it over the long term. And so interval training, it provides more menu choices, more menu flavors to pick from. I like vanilla ice cream and I want to eat it all the time. That's sort of the traditional, one-size-fits-all approach. So with intervals, you can vary it up. And there's a suggestion that, yeah, maybe we like it because it resembles this idea of natural play a little bit.
You're coming today, obviously, to speak to a group of people about personal performance and what they can get. What do you want them to get out of what you're talking about? Do you want to see them change how they do things? Or how does somebody start?
I think just generally being aware of the importance of fitness. We worry about these other traditional risk factors, that are important, that you can measure in the doctor's office-- waist circumference, your blood sugar, your blood pressure. But there's really good evidence that fitness by itself is very, very important.
And so for example, if you boost your fitness by about 10%, that's similar, in terms of the risk reduction, to dropping your blood pressure by five points. So when you put it in this context to people, there's a growing sense that fitness should be the fifth vital sign. And so I'm going to provide some perspectives on how to estimate your fitness and hopefully give some attendees some strategies on how to boost their fitness with intervals.
What about time? I actually realize how pathetic this is going to sound when I say this, because to say that, oh, I don't have 10 minutes. But how do you work it into your schedule? If you're a busy executive or you're a mother at home, you actually sometimes can't get-- like, 10 minutes is a lot of time sometimes just to chunk out. Any strategies around that?
We have this notion that exercise is a structured thing where you change into Spandex and you go to the gym. I think we need to liberate ourselves from that thinking a little bit. And fitness can be just taking the stairs. We're on the 17th floor here. I'm not going to suggest that someone run up 17 flights of stairs. But get off at the elevator and take three brisk stair flights through the day. You can incorporate these strategies throughout the day. There's this concept of exercise snacking, which is these smaller, shorter bouts of exercise through the day, increasing evidence that it might be better for us than saving all our exercise up at one time and doing it all together.
OK, I have the really lazy question to ask. Can you do less than one minute? Do you get asked that?
We're starting to scrape the bottom, for sure. Anything's better than nothing, but at the end of the day, there's no free lunch.
Martin, thanks very much.
Thanks for your time.