The new Canadian guidelines for exercise and physical activity although slightly backwards in its logic, with a few tweaks, it actually is on the right track. With the new guidelines, activity targets for adults will drop from 60 minutes per day to 150 minutes per week.
The slightly backwards part is the reasoning behind these changes being that it is “[hoped] that these new findings will inspire inactive or sedentary Canadians of all ages to add more physical activity to their lives, as they will reap some health benefits at lower thresholds than originally thought,” says Dr. Mark Tremblay, Chair of the Physical Activity Guidelines Committee. Which is wonderful! Some benefit is better than nothing.
It can be seen clearly from the statement above that these guidelines are in no way adequate! They are better than nothing and not more. BUT here’s what’s great about these guidelines and what’s missing from it as well. The issue here isn’t the time spent exercising but rather how that time dedicated to exercise is spent.
Research is showing (1-4) that the BEST way to condition your heart and skeletal muscles and burn fat is NOT to jog or walk steadily for an hour. Instead, it’s to alternate short bursts of high-intensity exercise with gentle recovery periods for a total of no more than 20 minutes reaping the same benefits as an hour-long endurance type of exercise. This type of exercise, known as interval training, can dramatically improve your cardiovascular fitness and fat-burning capabilities.
So, how is this all done?
There are two ways in which this can be accomplished. For those of you who are visual learners the image above can be used to understand this technique. Starting at a comfortable intensity level you gradually increase your intensity level (speed if you’re walking/jogging or resistance if you’re cycling/cross-training) at one minute increments until you reach 5 minutes. At this point you want your intensity to be high enough to make you slightly uncomfortable and out of breath -as if you were sprinting. Once at this intensity level for a minute you go back down to a comfortable pace to catch your breath and rest before you begin the cycle again. You repeat these 5 minute intervals 4x and on the last high intensity/sprinting minute you try to push your limits to go a little further than you previous 3 cycles.
Another way to go about this is to rotate between low and high intensity workouts in 8 and 12 second intervals. Again, starting at whatever your comfort level may be, work out at a low intensity for a count of 12 seconds, then switch to a higher intensity for a count of 8 seconds, then back to a comfortable low for 12 and again up to 8. As you start at an overall low intensity you’ll find that as you warm up you’re able to take your body up to much higher intensities in the last 4-5 minutes of your work-out. The key here is that you don’t want to burn yourself out in the first few minutes, but must allow your body to warm-up. I find this to be easily doable when jogging/walking or spinning/cycling.
With this exercise it matters not if all you can do is walk or if you’re a pro-athlete. You can start with a slow-paced walk and increase your intensity until you’re out of breath. You’ll find this routine to not only be time-efficient but also a lot more effective at increasing your endurance and general fitness.
Let’s not forget that a complete exercise routine involves stretching and strength-training workouts. If you’re finding this to be a challenge then I suggest you visit your local gym and sign up for a few sessions with a trainer. Also, starting mid-March, I will be leading a series of free seminars (Tuesday evenings) addressing topics on body composition (diet, stress management, exercise, emotional eating, etc. using First Line Therapy’s systematic approach) and will be covering safe and effective physical activity practices.
Also, remember that for exercise to become a part of your life, it needs to be fun. So, pick a sport you enjoy! Or…if you’re only going to be cycling at the gym, try to make it your play time. I have found it much easier to play when you’re busy counting seconds, sweating, out of breath, going for one last push while increasing resistance on your toy at the gym than counting minutes for your 45 minute run on the treadmill to be over!
Whether sedentary or not, exercise comes with manifold benefits and hopefully knowing that its many benefits can be achieved in only 20 minutes of your time would be an incentive of sorts to getting started!
- Little, J.P. et al. A practical model of low-volume high-intensity interval interval training induces mitochondrial biogenesis in human skeletal muscle: potential mechanisms. March 15, 2010 The Journal of Physiology, 588, 1011-1022.
- Palmer, H.S. Exercise training for a time-poor generation: enhanced skeletal muscle mitochondrial biogenesis J. Physiol. June 1, 2010 588 (11) 1817-1818.
- Cornish A.K. et al. Interval training for patients with coronary artery disease: a systematic review. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2010 Oct 23.
- Hunter, G.R. et al. A role for high intensity exercise on energy balance and weight control. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1998. Jun; 22(6): 489-93.