As a Physiotherapist, I am involved in exercise prescription on a daily basis and am often asked questions by patients and friends alike about how much, how intense and what types of exercise they should be doing. So I was intrigued to watch the recent BBC2 documentary ‘Horizon: The truth about exercise’ (presented by Michael Mosley, pictured here) which examined an alternative approach to exercise, called HIT (High Intensity Training) that takes just 3 minutes per week. Could this change the future of exercise as we know it?
For those of you who missed the documentary, HIT supporters are challenging traditional ideas about how much exercise we need to be doing to get the benefits. Current Government guidelines advise doing 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity (eg brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (eg running) per week, but the documentary reported that 80% of the population do no regular exercise at all. Lack of time is a common excuse offered by many for not exercising. HIT offers a glimmer of hope, for the time poor amongst us, that there may be an alternative to a long slog in the gym.
The HIT protocol involves just 3 x 20 second high intensity bursts of exercise, carried out 3 times per week. In the documentary, this was done on a static exercise bike, but the principle could also be applied to other forms of exercise, such as running. Health benefits are gained through improved metabolism, increasing the breakdown of glycogen (stored glucose) and improved maximum aerobic capacity.
In the same documentary they also spoke to a scientist promoting a completely different approach to exercise, called Non-Exercise Activity Thermogensis (NEAT). In layman’s terms, this refers to the calories you burn and increased metabolism achieved through simply being generally active in everyday life, which they argue could be just as beneficial as a more structured exercise programme.
So, the important message is that there are various ways of achieving health benefits associated with exercise and that rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, there are many varied options out there including HIT and NEAT. If you already do regular exercise that you enjoy, keep doing it! But if you are one of the 80% not doing enough, then perhaps consider trying HIT or increasing your NEAT. I certainly intend to give it a go: as a famous supermarket once said, every little helps!