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Perfect Exercise Program

By Kimberly Beauchamp, ND

Good news for people who don’t have hours to devote to working out: a new study finds that short bouts of intense exercise can lower diabetes and heart disease risk.

Current exercise recommendations for keeping a healthy heart and reducing the chance of diabetes involve a hefty time commitment: 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity aerobic exercise on most days is more than some people can manage. Even when it’s broken up, many people find it difficult to squeeze exercise time into lives filled with demands of work and family.

“There is no consensus on the nature of exercise therapy required to provide adequate health benefits, particularly with regard to the volume-intensity relationship,” said the study’s authors. Less is more (than expected).

The study took a fresh approach to exercising for disease prevention. Sixteen inactive men in their early twenties took part in the program, which consisted of short, all-out bouts of sprinting on a stationary bicycle alternating with periods of rest. During each session, the men sprinted for 30 seconds against a resistance of about 7.5% of their body weight, and then they either rested or cycled slowly for four minutes, followed by another three to five repetitions of the sprint/rest sequence. They repeated the sessions three times each week, bringing the grand total of time spent actively exercising to 7½ minutes per week (or about 20 minutes, three times per week, including the rest time).

Following two weeks of exercise training, the men showed significantly better insulin sensitivity compared with the beginning of the study, meaning that their ability to process sugar (glucose) from a meal improved by adhering to the program. Three other measures of glucose metabolism also improved, demonstrating that short bouts of intense exercise can have a profound effect on cardiovascular and diabetes risk factors.

“This novel time-efficient training paradigm can be used as a strategy to reduce metabolic risk factors in young and middle-aged sedentary people who otherwise would not adhere to time consuming traditional exercise regimens,” the authors concluded.

Putting it in perspective

While it might be tempting to forget all the other information that you’ve read about exercise and disease prevention in light of the new study, keep this in mind: the men did not lose weight, so if that’s one of your goals, you’ll still need to spend time working off those extra pounds. Also, this was one small study; larger, more detailed trials will need to confirm these promising results.

(BMC Endocrine Disorders 2009;9:doi10.1186/1472-6823-9-3)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, and now sees patients in East Greenwich and Wakefield. Inspired by her passion for healthful eating and her own young daughters, Dr. Beauchamp is currently writing a book about optimizing children’s health through better nutrition.

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