Surprise! Even a Two Minute Workout Can Benefit Your Heart
Well, what if you could get the health benefits of exercise by working out only two minutes? Does it sound too good to be true? It’s not. Research shows that 120 seconds of exercise could offer similar benefits at the cellular level to exercising for 30 minutes or more, at a significant time savings.
If You Work Out Less, Intensity Matters
The downside of a 2-minute workout is that it can’t be leisurely. In other words, you can’t take a stroll around your house for 2 minutes and expect your cardiovascular health to improve. You will get points for not sitting, but it’s not the equivalent to the benefits you’ll get from exercising more intensely.
During a 2-minute workout, you must work hard enough to sweat and feel challenged to keep going. Imagine sprinting across a field as opposed to taking a leisurely jog. You could also get a 2-minute workout by jumping rope at a fast pace for 2 minutes. However, the easiest way to do a short workout is through high-intensity interval training.
How effective is it? In a study, researchers asked participants to ride an exercise bike at 50% of their maximum intensity for 30 minutes. At such an intensity, you’re pedaling at a relatively comfortable pace. Another group cycled for 4 minutes at 75% of their maximum effort. This group did this 5 times in a row for 20 minutes. The final group did four intense pedaling sessions on an exercise bike for 30 seconds at a time. In between each session, they rested for 4.5 minutes. So, the latter group only exerted for a total of 2 minutes excluding the rest periods between each active session. This is similar to what people do when they interval train.
The results? The group who exerted themselves for only 2 minutes experienced similar changes at the cellular level as the group who worked out at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes. What were these changes?
Inside cells are tiny organelles called mitochondria. Their job is to produce the energy currency, called ATP, that all cells use to do work. Every time your muscles contract, they require ATP to make it possible. Without it, all movement would come to a standstill. When your cells have more mitochondria, you have better exercise endurance. Plus, research links more mitochondria with better heart health.
Having more mitochondria is beneficial for metabolic health, too. Aging mitochondria are a cause of insulin resistance, where cells don’t respond as well to insulin. This causes a rise in insulin that increases fat storage inside skeletal muscle. Over time, this increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Short bursts of exercise help keep the mitochondria inside cells healthy and plentiful. You also lose mitochondria because of aging and intense exercise, even in small amounts, helps stem this loss.
If you need more proof that short, intense periods of exercise work, a study found that only two weeks of high-intensity interval exercise increased the number and function of mitochondria inside muscle cells.
The Bottom Line
You can boost the number of mitochondria inside your cells with short bursts of exercise, as long as you keep the intensity high. In fact, the benefits are similar to what you get from 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise. Short, intense workouts are more manageable for time-challenged exercisers. However, it’s best to ease into intense workouts. Build up a baseline level of fitness by walking briskly for 10 minutes at a time for a few weeks. Once you’re conditioned, ease into short, high-intensity workouts.
You can choose any form of exercise for the active intervals, as long as you do it with intensity. Some people use an exercise bike or sprint, but you could also jump rope, use an elliptical machine, rowing machine, do plyometric jumps, or swing a kettlebell with intensity during the active intervals. You can vary the type of exercise you do during the active intervals too. The only stipulation is to work as hard as you can during the active intervals. Then, you get to rest. It’s a time expedient way to enjoy the health benefits of exercise.