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Just 12 Minutes of Weekly Exercise Can Whip Overweight Men Into Shape

Update Date: May 30, 2013 11:17 AM EDT

Just four minutes of exercise a day is enough to help overweight, inactive men get into shape, according to a new study.

Researchers found that people don't need to spend hours at the gym to get fit, and just four minutes of high intensity exercise activity three times a week can significantly improve fitness in otherwise inactive men.

Past research found that regular training improves oxygen uptake, which determines a person's ability to consume oxygen and therefore their maximal work output. However, researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) wanted to find out the most an exercise regime that delivers the biggest benefit.

The findings published in the journal PLOS ONE reveals that hat just three short high-intensity sessions per week can make for significant differences in the fitness of inactive men.

"Our data suggest that a single bout of AIT performed three times per week may be a time-efficient strategy to improve VO2max," lead researcher Arnt Erik Tjønna said in a news release, adding that the 4-minute exercise can easily be incorporated into daily life.

For the study, Tjønna and his team measured changes in oxygen uptake and traditional cardiovascular risk factors in 24 inactive, but otherwise health overweight men.  The men were asked to complete a 10-week training session that involved three weekly high-intensity interval sessions. 

Thirteen of the participants were asked to follow a high-intensity exercise protocol that has previously shown to be effective, consisting of four intervals of 4 minutes of high intensity exercise at 90 percent of maximal heart rate interspersed with 3 minutes of active recovery at 70 percent maximal heart rate commonly known as 4x4 training.

The rest of the participants followed a program that consisted of one four-minute interval high-rate exercise.

Researchers found that the men who did high intensity exercises three times a week exhibited a 13 percent increase in oxygen uptake, and the men who exercised only once a week showed a 10 percent increase. While both groups saw decreases in their blood pressure, men who did one four-minute interval high-rate exercise three times a week actually showed greater decreases than men who did the 4x4 exercise regime three times a week.

Tjønna and his team noted that people who are active probably wouldn't benefit as much as the inactive participants did from the single bout-training regime.

"It has to be noted that the subjects were previously inactive, and the same effect on physical fitness cannot be expected in active individuals," Tjønna said.

"Nevertheless, since we know that more and more people are inactive and overweight, the kind of improvement in physical fitness that we saw in this study may provide a real boost for inactive people who are struggling to find the motivation to exercise," he concluded.

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