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high intensity training


Government guidelines say adults should do at least two and a half hours of moderate activity each week – or one and a quarter hours of vigorous activity – or a combination of the two.

It can be confusing, but that alone probably doesn’t explain why only a third of adults are meeting the recommended amounts.

Much of the research on health recommendations comes from the American College of Sports Medicine, which has been studying levels of public fitness since the 1950s.

The World Health Organization also says physical inactivity is the fourth largest contributor to global deaths, and increases risk of some cancers, diabetes and heart disease.

The UK guidelines were drawn up in 1994, after several national surveys found low levels of activity were contributing to poor health.

But there’s an inherent tension in giving public health advice.

Broad advice can be sold in a single message, but nuance is harder to convey.

Stuart Biddle, professor of physical activity at Loughborough University helped to write the UK guidelines.

He says: “The debate was really around not so much whether the science showed physical activity was good for health, but to come up with sensible and evidence-based guidelines such as how much exercise, how often should we do it, can we break it up into smaller bouts, and it’s really that which was probably the most contentious.”

Few people know how much exercise is recommended

Few people know how much exercise is recommended

One of his colleagues, Jamie Timmons has been researching high intensity training, and whether health improvements can be found with just three minutes of exercise per week.

“During this year we’ve learned that while regular exercise will reduce your chance of developing or progressing to Type 2 diabetes, it was always expected that would also benefit your cardiovascular system,” he said.

“What we’ve now seen is a major US trial stopped early because essentially there was no benefit.”

He goes on to point out: “The guidelines are really based on one type of evidence – that’s epidemiology – and it’s not really the strongest level of science for cause and effect association.

“People who report that they do more physical activity seem to be better off.

“The question is if you take one individual and put them on a training programme, what benefits can they expect?”

Sir Liam Donaldson was chief medical officer for England from 1998-2010 and introduced the “five-a-day” fruit and vegetable message in 2003.

The following year he called for adults to exercise at least five times a week and suggested that household tasks could count as physical activity.

“At the time, I don’t think it was [oversimplified]. It may have come across as rather rigid.

“But by trying to be flexible and mentioning the housework and the gardening we ended up being lampooned a bit and that’s never good whenever you’re trying to get a serious message across.”

Has it worked?

“I don’t think there was significant progress, no. I do see public health as a long term business and so getting the evidence out – I do see that as a proper achievement.”

The same could be true in the US, where it’s claimed one in three Americans is obese.

Carol Garber, a vice-president of the American College of Sports Medicine, says guidelines could be better understood.

“Part of it is that they are complicated, the other is that we’ve not done a very good job of getting the information out to people in a way that it’s easy to understand and that they can take and implement it in their daily lives.”

The UK guidelines have now been updated to include specific advice for age-groups, strength training and avoiding sedentary behavior – the “silent killer” of sitting in a chair for several hours each day.

The Department of Health says: “Being active can help protect against heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer which is why we have guidance on physical activity tailored to each age group.”

The message to be active is broadly understood, but the other crucial thing – to get up and move around as often as possible – is largely ignored.

“Twenty Plus” campaign: 20 seconds of intense activity when you can (running up stairs, cycling like crazy for short bursts on your bike), a minimum of 20 minutes of walking every day, and no more than 20 minutes of sitting at your computer or in front of TV without getting up and moving around.


According to scientists, intense exercise for just two and a half minutes a day could help keeps the pounds off.

A study shows that concentrated effort can burn as many as 200 extra calories, provided the spurts are broken up with longer periods of easy recovery.

It is the latest evidence to support High Intensity Training (HIT), whereby a number of short bursts of intense exercise are teamed with short recovery breaks in between.

Although HIT is not new, recent research suggests it can deliver the same physical benefits as traditional endurance training.

Researcher Kyle Sevits said: “Research shows that many people start an exercise programme but just can’t keep it up.

“The biggest factor people quote is that they don’t have the time to fit in exercise. We hope if exercise can be fitted into a smaller period of time, they may give it a go.”

Official guidelines state adults should do 150 minutes of moderate, or 75 minutes of vigorous, exercise a week.

During the three-day study, five healthy men, all between the ages of 25 and 31, lived in a sealed off room so that their oxygen, carbon dioxide and water levels could be monitored to calculate how many calories they burnt.

They were also given a diet precisely tailored to meet their energy requirements. For two of the days, they spent most of their time in sedentary activities, such as using a computer.

On the last day they performed five 30-second sprint workouts at high resistance on a stationary bicycle.

Each burst was separated by a four-minute period of recovery in which the men pedaled slowly with little resistance.

The results found the volunteers burned an extra 200 calories on average over the workout day.

Although the researchers cannot prove the technique leads to weight loss, it suggests that intense, but brief, bursts of exercise could help people maintain their weight.

Kyle Sevits, of Colorado State University, which conducted the research, said burning an extra 200 calories a couple of times a week could combat average weight gain of a couple of pounds each year.

“Motivating yourself can be very hard. The way this could work in the real world is with the guidance of a personal trainer,” he added.

Experts believe HIT improves insulin sensitivity, which is important for keeping blood glucose levels stable, possibly because it uses more muscles than conventional aerobic training.

It may also help to break down stored glucose in muscles.

But scientists warn not everyone responds to this form of training because genes play a part in determining whether you gain any benefit.

“Anyone with medical conditions should seek medical advice before undertaking it,” they added.