“The short answer is yes, but again there’s a number of caveats there,” says Canada-based Martin Gibala, Ph.D., author of The One-Minute Workout. “If you want the benefits of very short duration exercise, typically the intensity of the exercise needs to be very high. It needs to be big-enough exercise.”
Of course, there are other factors that will inevitably make even a super-short sweat session more than a few minutes long—warmup, cooldown, and a resting period if desired—but doing your actual workout for only a few minutes can be more effective than one might think when it comes to improving your fitness levels.
In a recent study, Gibala compared one group doing 150 minutes of low-intensity exercise over three sessions to a second group doing three 300-minute workouts per week. The short workout consisted of a warmup, three 20-second high-intensity intervals, and a cooldown period. The results were astonishing. After a couple of months of doing this, the two groups ended up having strikingly similar results when it came to fitness, blood sugar controls, and even cellular change in muscles.
The thought of seeing physical changes with minimal time spent is appealing in itself, but there are definitely other pluses when it comes to doing short spurts of fitness. “With intervals, there’s infinite variety,” says Gibala. ”You can vary up the length, the intensity, the nature of the recovery period… you vary it up and combat boredom over time.” So one day, you might want to try interval running, and another, swimming or cycling. It can all depend on what you’re in the mood for, what your body is telling you, and what you enjoy the most. (Speed up your progress towards your weight-loss goals with Women’s Health’s Look Better Naked DVD.)
But before you jump right in, pause. Gibala stresses the importance of figuring out what’s best for you and your health before making any drastic changes to your fitness routine. “There is slightly higher risk, based on literature, the more vigorous the exercise, the transiently higher risk of a cardiac event when you’re actually exercising,” says Gibala. “You have to be cognitive of the fact that very vigorous exercise is slightly more risky than moderate exercise, and this is where getting physician clearance is important.”
Exercising only a few minutes a week at such an intense level might not be for everyone, but it’s a definite opportunity to reap significant benefits and see physical change in a time-efficient manner, if done in the right way. For those who want to cut down their gym time with shorter interval workouts, getting out of your comfort zone is a good place to start. Don’t be afraid to try something new and pick up the pace while doing it so your heart rate spikes, resulting in more calories torched.
Just a few more words of wisdom—and we promise it’ll just take a minute. It IS possible to get in shape when incorporating these short workouts into your day-to-day routine, but Gibala highly suggests thinking about your diet as well when it comes to weight-loss expectations. “A lot of people think you exercise to lose weight,” says Gibala. “That’s why, for fitness benefits, I tell them there’s a direct line between exercise and fitness and that’s why you should be doing it, regardless of the number on the scale.”
So as long as you have realistic expectations of what working out for a few minutes a week will bring, combined with seeing a physician to determine what level of intensity is best for you, then you are well on your way to making time to sweat during the week. Just remember to make time for a short shower after, too.