Is one minute of exercise all you need?

Story highlights

  • High-intensity exercise for one minute could have health benefits similar to 45 minutes of moderate exercise
  • The quick and vigorous workout may also be just as effective at promoting weight loss
  • People at risk of heart disease should talk with their doctors before starting high-intensity training

(CNN)If someone told you that you could get a full workout in the same amount of time it takes you to make a cup of tea or take out the trash, would you believe them?

It sounds like a dubious exercise regimen promoted on a late-night infomercial, but there is actual science behind it. A recent study suggests that one minute of vigorous exercise can be just as effective for improving health as 45 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise.
Researchers asked nine previously sedentary young men to do one total minute of high-intensity cycling on a stationary bike three times a week for 12 weeks. The minute was broken down into three 20-second bursts of maximum effort, with two-minute recovery periods of moderate-intensity cycling in between.
    Another group of 10 men undertook a more traditional workout consisting of 45 minutes of continuous, moderate-intensity cycling three times a week, and six men did not exercise at all.
    At the end of 12 weeks, the researchers found similar gains between the high-intensity and moderate-intensity groups, compared with the no-exercise group, in terms of better blood sugar control and improved endurance and muscle function.
    "This study is a relatively extreme example that shows the effectiveness of brief, very intense bursts of exercise," said Martin J. Gibala, professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario.
    The one-minute approach is "the most intense flavor of interval training," an approach that alternates between all-out exercise and less-intense activities, said Gibala, who led the study (PDF), which was published in April in the journal PLOS ONE.
    The new study found that high- and moderate-intensity workouts also were associated with similar amounts of modest weight loss and boosts in calorie burning, Gibala said. However, the most important way to lose weight is "on the energy-in side of the equation, what we put in our mouth," he added.
    During the three 20-second bursts of activity, the researchers asked the men to ride the bike as i