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Here's how you can gain fitness, without spending hours sweating in the gym

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

You can literally improve your cardiovascular fitness right there at home, with 2 MINUTE work breaks. Yes that's you, get up from your desk and invest 120 seconds of your life, it will pay dividends.

Whether you are a former athlete or you’ve never exercised in your life, if you’re in a position where you’re currently not being active at all, it’s time for a strategy. Many of us list lack of time as our biggest limitation to starting an exercise program. This really butts heads with our common mentality that the only way start a new exercise program is to “go all in”. Unfortunately starting full boar from ground zero, often backfires.

From nothing, many of us will set lofty goals, including hour long gym sessions several days per week.

If we fall short of our lofty goals, we’re often quick to decide that it’s just ‘not meant to be’.

But what if the force needed to push through your current inertia and get you started is smaller and less time consuming than you think? It’s time to consider that there’s a better way to start and continue exercising.

What if I told you that 1-3 minutes of exercise, concentrated or spread out throughout the day could improve your cardiovascular fitness? Could you start there? And build on it as you gain momentum? Most of us have minutes to invest.

The Research:

Canadian researchers out of McMaster University studied the effects of 1-3 minutes of sprint interval training on stairs, done 3 days per week for 6 weeks. They measured the effects on cardiovascular fitness. The sprint interval training used refers to intermittent bursts of vigorous exercise. Similar studies have been done using cycling.

The first studies in 2017, looked at 2 different 6 week protocols including:

  • 3×20 seconds with 2 minutes rest 3x/week for 6 weeks

  • 3x 60 seconds with 60 seconds of rest 3x/week

After the 6 week 3x 20 and 3 x 60 second interventions participants increased their VO2 Peak by 12% and 7% respectively. Both groups increased their cardiovascular fitness despite such short durations of exercise.

Two years later, in 2019, McMaster University researchers revisited the lab, this time the protocol included spreading the vigorous 20 second sprint intervals throughout the day with a minimum of 1 hour and a maximum of 4 hours between sprints. Since time constraint has often been cited as the reason for not exercising this new study aimed to see whether shorter ‘exercise snacks’ throughout the day rather than at one time, could benefit cardiovascular health.

The results of the second study showed a 5% increase in cardiovascular fitness and a 12% increase in cycling peak power output. For such a short period of time, this is a good return on investment, but if you can do the 3×20 or 3×60 seconds in one bout, like the 2017 studies, the added stress on your cardiovascular system from shorter rest periods appears to increase your fitness returns. But remember, either method is a start and the first goal is to get from nothing to something.

These are noteworthy findings because they speak to the importance of doing something.

These studies are not suggesting these short bursts of exercise can or should replace longer interval or exercise sessions, however they do show that there’s value in incorporating convenient accessible sprint interval training into your day and time wise it’s accessible, even if you’re a very time constrained person.

What can you do at home?

These studies used stairs and others have used cycling, but the point is the participants are getting their heart rates up with vigorous efforts, for short periods of time. You can do this using a variety of activities that require no equipment and can accomplish it right in your kitchen, beside your desk or outside. Some ideas include but are not limited to.

  • jumping jacks

  • burpees

  • fast running

  • mogul jumping side to side

Why Cardiovascular Fitness Matters:

What’s so important about improving cardiovascular fitness? Improving your cardiovascular fitness allows you to increase oxygen uptake in the lungs. When you inhale and bring oxygen to the lungs some of this goes into your bloodstream, which then flows to your heart where it is pumped out and circulates to body tissues including your muscles. Increased cardiovascular fitness means you’ll be supplying your muscles with more oxygen, which can make you more resistant to exercise fatigue.

Improved cardiovascular fitness has been associated with reduced cardiovascular disease and all cause mortality.