We get it. Fitting in those 30 expert-recommended minutes of daily exercise is a daunting task—albeit well worth it. Experts have found that just 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (such as brisk walking, cycling, or yoga) five times per week can have major heart-protecting benefits. Which is precisely the reason why you so dutifully try to carve out time for those sweat sessions. But sometimes a rough work week or a weekend trip can get in the way of your routine, leaving you feeling like you're falling off track with your health and weight loss goals. But being short on time isn’t necessarily a barrier to good health. According to recent research, completing those classic 30-minute workouts isn’t the only way to stay in shape. High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, offers an alternative for time-strapped health nuts.
What the heck is HIIT? It’s an exercise method in which gym-goers perform a quick bout of exertion, like sprints or squat jumps, then follow it up with a short recovery period. Typically, the entire workout lasts anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. Experts say the high-intensity aids calorie burn, weight loss, and controls appetite while the short length makes it easier for crazy busy people to fit in some fitness. Another benefit: Exercisers work harder than they could during a sustained, lengthy workout. Although short and vigorous workouts don’t provide the same cardioprotective benefits as longer, moderate-intensity (MIT) workouts, researchers say that HIIT offers a unique advantage to overweight individuals suffering from metabolic disorders. One study in the journal BMC Endocrine Disorders found that just 12 15-minute HIIT sessions improved the insulin sensitivity of overweight participants by 23 percent. MIT on the other hand only improved insulin sensitivity by 6 percent! Improved insulin sensitivity translates to an increased ability to break down fat and lowers the risk of diabetes, cancer, and thyroid problems, too, so this is definitely a scientific finding worth celebrating.
Eat This! Tip
Since HIIT requires a lot of energy and, therefore, longer periods of rest, Jim White, registered dietitian and owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition, suggests incorporating HIIT cardio session into your workout routine one to two times per week and sticking to longer cardio sessions and weight training the other days you hit the gym. This way you’ll reap the cardio-protective benefits of MIT, the muscle-building benefits of weight training, and the fat-melting, metabolism-healing properties of HIIT.
And on those days when fitting in some HIIT isn’t an option, aim to squeeze in some micro-workouts (like these 19 Ways to Burn Calories Without a Gym) to break up the time you spend sitting. Even though you may only be active for a few minutes, short bursts of activity can help you maintain your good health. Plus, it’s super easy! Just step away from your desk and do some squats or walk up a few flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator. And when you’re vegging out in front of the TV, do a few sets of pushups, lunges and crunches during the commercial breaks.