A few minutes of intense exercise a week is just as good as a half-hour of moderate physical activity a day for reducing a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes — and may actually be even more effective, new research hints.

“It is possible to gain significant health benefits from only 7.5 minutes of exercise each week — if that is all that you find the time to do,” Dr. James A. Timmons of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, one of the researchers on the study, told Reuters Health.

“This is a dramatically different view from current thinking,” he admitted.

Timmons and his team found that young sedentary men who did just 15 minutes of all-out sprinting on an exercise bike spread out over two weeks substantially improved their ability to metabolize glucose (sugar). Traditional aerobic exercise programs can boost sensitivity to the key blood-sugar-regulating hormone insulin. The high-intensity program did this too, but it also directly reduced the men’s blood sugar levels — something that standard exercise programs have not been shown to do.

Current exercise guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise a day at least five days a week, but “the general population fails to follow such regimes due to lack of time, motivation and adherence,” the investigators note in the journal BMC Endocrine Disorders. They hypothesized that high intensity exercise might improve insulin sensitivity more efficiently.

To investigate, they had 16 men in their early 20s do six sessions of exercise, each including four to six 30-second sprints interspersed with four-minute rest periods. The time commitment for each session ranged from 17 to 26 minutes.

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After two weeks, the amount of time the men’s blood sugar and blood insulin levels were above normal after they drank a solution containing 75 grams of glucose was reduced by 12 percent and 37 percent, respectively. When people eat, Timmons explained, their blood sugar levels rise, but in very fit people levels speedily return to normal. In less-active people, high blood sugar levels are more prolonged, which over time can damage the body and lead to cardiovascular disease.

Based on the findings, Timmons told Reuters Health, people should try for four to six 30-second bouts of intense exercise, such as cycling or running up stairs, twice a week. While this is appropriate for people 20 to 40 years old who are in good health but not fit, he added, people with diabetes or heart disease should gradually increase their activity under a doctor’s supervision.

Why do I care so much about short, intense workouts(SIW)? Here are my top  reasons.

  • Time – The most obvious benefit of short, intense workouts is that they don’t take as long. This is one precious commodity that you should value as much as anything. So anywhere in your life where you can make a change from your routine that frees up time for you and your family would seem like a great idea. And your workout is a great place to start.
  • Better ROI – I like using financial terms to make a point. MG always laughs at my analogies but hey they work and people remember them.
  • Interest – Ever notice what the ‘play of the day’ always has in common on the sports show? I mean besides when the kissing bandit plants one on a pitcher or a streaker runs across the field. They are all explosive plays. Big hits, homeruns, slam dunks, one-timers…the plays that are deemed the best of the day are the powerful ones. Not only is it more fun to watch intense, explosive plays it is more fun to do them as well.
  • Performance – We already saw that the best play of the day is an example of intense activity. Well practicing for your sport in the same way gives you an advantage over your competitor. It’s not necessarily the player who is the best jumper but the one who gets off the ground the quickest. Or maybe it’s not the player who can go forever but the one who can win every ball. Short, intense exercise sets the foundation for being able to dominate in your sport.
  • Ease of practice – It’s much easier to perform a short, intense workout. Jumps can be done just about anywhere. Med ball tosses can be performed against a wall. Olympic lifts need only a bar or a dumbbell. Slow, steady-state workouts need either a machine or a lot of space.
  • Longevity – As we age we lose the ability to generate force quickly. This lack of force production is sometimes attributed to the falls we see in the elderly. Performing short, intense workouts helps us train this capacity that we tend to lose naturally with age. As the saying goes ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’.