Radio Sandwell Health News

Get fit in 30 seconds: Short bursts are the secret?

2013-01-08 00:24:41

Scientists at the University of Birmingham are among an international team of experts carrying out ground-breaking research into a new exercise regime which involves participants working out intensively for 30 seconds without stopping, then resting for up to a minute.

MORE than a quarter of Brummies are obese -the third highest rate in the UK.

So, after the usual Christmas over-indulgence, perhaps it's little wonder that many of us will have resolved to ditch some excess weight in 2013.

And there's some good news for those battling the bulge who despair at the idea of spending hours every week slogging in the gym or jogging around a park in all weathers.

Scientists at the University of Birmingham are among an international team of experts carrying out ground-breaking research into a new exercise regime which involves participants working out intensively for 30 seconds without stopping, then resting for up to a minute.

They have put hundreds of human guinea pigs to the test, getting them to do the short bursts of exercise followed by one-minute rests for 20 minutes at a time, three times a week.

And they claim early results show the exercise regime, known as High Intensity Impact Training, is working.

Dr Sam Shepherd, lecturer in sport and exercise nutrition at the university's School of Sport and Exercise Sciences, says: "Although we all know exercise is good for us, the majority of people don't meet the recommended guidelines of 30 to 60 minutes per day and the most common reason for this is lack of time.

"Our research shows that repeated 30-second bouts of intense exercise three times per week in 20-minute sessions, elicits the same improvements in physical health and fitness as performing 60 minutes of moderate exercise five times per week.

"Therefore, the total time commitment for exercise can be reduced from five hours to only one hour per week, yielding the same health and fitness benefits."

Two ways to work out intensely includes going hell for leather on an exercise bike, or feeling the burn on a rowing machine. However, you don't even need expensive gym equipment - simply running rapidly up and down the stairs at home would do it.

He believes the research could lead to conventional medical textbooks on exercise being torn up.

"We hope that this time-efficient way of exercising can mean that even professionals with a hectic life can fit in health-promoting exercise and help challenge the ongoing rise of obesity and associated risk factors," he adds.

Meanwhile, in Australia, scientists have also been contributing to the study. The University of New South Wales, in Sydney, recruited 50 overweight men for short, high-intensity cycle sprints.

They had to sprint for eight seconds on an exercise bike followed by 12 seconds of recovery in a training cycle lasting 20 minutes and repeated three times a week over 12 weeks.

Professor Steve Boutcher said that by the end, the volunteers, who were in their 20s, lost on average 4lbs, increased their muscle mass and reduced fat around their liver, kidneys and other internal organs by 17 per cent.

"Other studies using aerobic exercise have found the amount of exercise needed to produce a similar decrease in visceral fat was about seven hours per week for 14 weeks," says Professor Boutcher.

"It seems rapid bursts of muscle movement appear to flood the blood with hormones called catecholamines.

"These break down fat stores in the body and burn them up as energy.

"By comparison, conventional moderate exercise such as cycling for 40 minutes does not raise the blood-levels of catecholamines much at all."

But scientists do not yet entirely understand why the short-burst exercise regime so profoundly boosts volunteers' stamina and the fitness of their lungs, heart and blood vessels.

"The truthful answer is we do not fully understand this," says Professor Jamie Timmons, a professor of systems biology at Loughborough University, who is also taking part in the research. "But a growing body of independent research shows this is the case and that the textbook explanation of the science of exercise requires revision.

As for weight loss, the results from conventional long hours of exercise regimes often prove disappointing.

"Typically, exercisers get themselves into trouble by eating more than they do normally because strenuous gym sessions leave them ravenous.

"Brief, high-intensity exercise does not stimulate appetite as much."

Prof Timmons said the regime should also raise people's metabolic rates after they stop exercising, as it builds muscle - and this tissue makes metabolisms run faster. In turn, this stimulates the breakdown of fat and burns calories.

The answers, however, should come in about two years, when scientists publish their full findings as part of the world-wide study.

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