Short bursts of exercise as beneficial as prolonged ones, claims study but not all are convinced

Sitting long hours may not be bad for your brain as long as daily exercise goals met, says study

The study says 12 minutes of short interval exercise in a day can provide cardiometabolic benefits by activating the body’s metabolites.

Regular physical activity and exercise is one the keys to living a healthy and long life. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all adults should exercise for 150 minutes every week — or 30 minutes every day — to stay fit and healthy. The exercise intensity, most experts agree, should be moderate to vigorous in intensity.

In recent years, however, short bursts of exercise that take less time are gaining more popularity. The prime example is the rising popularity of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) among gym-goers and fitness enthusiasts. But are these exercises which last only for short bursts of time actually as beneficial for health as regular, prolonged exercise durations? Here’s what you need to know.

Why HIIT is so popular

A study published in BMC Women’s Health in 2017 describes how many people, despite knowing of the benefits of exercise, are unable to exercise regularly for prolonged periods of time due to paucity of time. For this reason, the American College of Sports Medicine and the CDC had come up with the recommendation of dividing the required 150 minutes per week duration into shorter, high-intensity exercise durations which could provide the same fat-burning and cardiometabolic benefits.

Just how much this type of exercise picked up in popularity and practice across the world is well-known by the success of HIIT. According to the findings of a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2019, doing HIIT regularly can help you lose 28.5 percent more weight than doing longer durations of less intense exercise. Interval training was defined here as cardiovascular exercise which involved repeated but short bursts of intense effort interspersed with recovery periods consisting of low-intensity movements.

But even as this study, and many others, highlight the fat-burning and weight loss benefits of HIIT, they also point out that it involves higher injury risks and can cause high cardiovascular stress. Experts suggest that those with heart diseases should refrain from HIIT and others should get a thorough checkup for silent heart disease done before picking it up.

Ideal duration of short bursts of exercise 

So, while studies show that short bursts of exercise can help burn body fat, their overall health benefits and efficacy are contentious. What’s more, most studies do not agree on exactly how long such a short burst of exercise should last, making any conclusive decision difficult to reach.

A study published in PLoS One in 2014 suggests that three minutes of intense intermittent exercise within a total training time of 30 minutes (including warm-up and cool-down) once every week could increase the skeletal muscle’s oxidative capacity to burn fat and improve other markers of health status. Another study published in early 2020 in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests that even four seconds of high-intensity exercise repeated throughout the day can counter the ill-effects of sitting for 10 or more hours of the day.

Activating metabolites through short bursts of exercise

A new study published in the journal Circulation says that short bursts of exercise lasting around 12 minutes can help activate 80 percent of the body’s metabolites and lead to not only weight loss but also better cardiometabolic health. Metabolites are small molecules and intermediate products of metabolic reactions in the body. These metabolites are activated or catalysed by various enzymes in our cells and, once activated, they can aid the proper metabolic and cardiovascular functions of the body.

This study used metabolic profiling before and after intense cardiopulmonary exercise to understand the metabolic architecture of exercise response patterns in humans. They studied the changes in 588 circulating metabolites in 411 middle-aged participants (both men and women) and found that 502 of the metabolites changed favourably immediately after 12 minutes of exercise. The researchers found reductions in key metabolites like glutamate and dimethylguanidino valerate (DMGV), which are associated with increased risks of heart disease, diabetes, liver disease and mortality.

The study thus concluded that 12 minutes of short interval exercise in a day can provide cardiometabolic benefits by activating the body’s metabolites. But despite the findings of this study and the others, there still remains no consensus among the scientific community regarding the precise duration for which short bursts of exercise should be done and hence there is a lack of formal recommendation by the CDC or any other global institution of repute. So, until there is a consensus, it’s perhaps best to consult your doctor about your health status and ask a professional trainer to tailor an exercise regimen based on those health reports.

For more information, read our article on Fitness

Health articles in Firstpost are written by, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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