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Hacking the ROI on Exercise Time?

Some people love to exercise. They spend their day counting down the hours until they can get into the weight room or go for their run. For the individuals that find exercise deeply rewarding and intrinsically motivating—and we should all strive for this—staying active is less of a challenge. It’s not uncommon, however, for daily exercise to feel more like a chore than a joy.

And that’s okay, but whether you are excited to exercise or not Habits of Healthy Motion are still incredibly important for Optimal Health and for your longevity.

What if you could get a bigger return on the results and effectiveness of your exercise and spend less time doing it?

Well, that might be possible. According to researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, 1 minute of high intensity or “all out” exercise was similar to 45 minutes of less difficult exercise. The implications of this are pretty big: If you can get the same results from a few minutes of exercise as you would from a much longer workout, you could potentially make your time at the gym more efficient and more effective.

This approach to fitness is often referred to as high intensity interval training (or HIIT), and this isn’t the first study to suggest that HIIT is superior to more traditional approaches to fitness.

Does this mean that everyone should adopt HIIT?

Not so fast. Here’s what you need to know before you incorporate HIIT into your routine:

  • Going from no activity to high-intensity activity could be dangerous. Easing into a workout routine—after a conversation with your physician—is the safest way to ramp up your activity level. If you jump from almost no motion in your day to a HIIT routine, the shock to your system could be severe.
  • Technique matters. Whether you are running or are lifting weights, using proper form is essential for preventing injury because what good is an exercise routine if your ankle is twisted or your back is thrown out? When you engage in HIIT, it’s not uncommon to feel frantic and tired, which can lead to a mistake in form, which then becomes an injury. Get your technique down!
  • NEAT activity still matters. NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis, which is that energy we burn simply going about our day. The research on sedentary habits—like sitting at a desk all day—overwhelming supports the idea that maintaining an active lifestyle outside of the gym is essential to Optimal Health. No matter what you do in the gym, you still need to get up and move as often as you can during the day.
  • Non-HIIT workouts are still helpful. Even if the return on HIIT is “better” than traditional exercise, that doesn’t mean that the rewards from your current exercise routine aren’t helpful. If you enjoy going for a long run but don’t enjoy sprints, keep running! A workout you keep is more effective than a workout abandon.
  • Think about longevity. If HIIT is hard on your joints and leaves you feeling banged up, consider sticking to the less demanding exercise options. Our ultimate goal is to help you create change in the short term and keep it for the long term. If getting the quick return from HIIT feels like it will prevent you from exercising in the long term, scale back the intensity for the sake of your health.

Health can sometimes feel really complicated, especially with the current pace of research. When it comes to exercise, HIIT could create a big return, but it’s most important that you adopt an active lifestyle that you can sustain for many years to come. I would rather you lose weight steadily overtime and keep it off than lose it rapidly only to have it come back a year or so later because your routine was too difficult to maintain.

Find the balance that works for you.

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