Behind the headlines

Quick-fix exercise?

News articles about quick-fix exercise

Good news for male couch potatoes – just 12 minutes of exercise a week is enough to become fit and healthy.

- Daily Mail, 30 May 2013

The BHF’s view

The idea that just a few minutes of intense exercise each week can bring similar benefits to more frequent regular exercise has been much in the news recently.

It made headlines in the Telegraph, the Independent and the Mail this summer (although the idea first grabbed attention after a BBC Horizon documentary in February 2012).

The new research published this summer was led by the KG Jebsen Center of Exercise in Medicine in Norway. It studied 26 overweight men who did not exercise regularly, but were otherwise healthy.

All the men did intense exercise on a treadmill three times a week. Half of them did just four minutes each time, and the other half did four bursts of four minutes, with three minutes of less intense exercise between each. Both groups also warmed up and cooled down, so they spent at least 57 minutes exercising each week, not 12 minutes as suggested in the news headlines.

The results showed that both groups made similar improvements to maximal oxygen intake (VO2max – an indicator of fitness), blood pressure and fasting blood sugar levels, and had lost weight and body fat.

The study is limited as it was very small, and only looked at inactive, overweight but otherwise healthy men – so the findings may not apply to other groups. It only lasted ten weeks, so it is difficult to judge the long-term effects. Also, the study didn’t compare what the results would have been with people who did less vigorous exercise, or no exercise at all.

Our recommendation remains that people try to do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week

For most people, some exercise is better than none. But very intense exercise may not be suitable for people with heart or circulatory disease. Regular moderate-intensity exercise is known to reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers, but the study wasn’t able to look at those risks.

Lisa Purcell, the BHF’s physical activity specialist, said: “More research is needed into what types and amounts of physical activity are best for health. All the studies of high-intensity exercise to date have been lab-based and we don’t have long-term data to demonstrate the potential long-term harm or benefits of this approach.

“In the meantime, our recommendation remains that people try to do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week, such as brisk walking, dancing, swimming, water aerobics or moderate cycling. An alternative is to do 75 minutes a week of vigorous activity such as jogging or running, fast cycling or singles tennis.

“If you are embarking on a new exercise programme, always check with your GP first.”

Read the research

Read more about physical activity

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