Tight on time? Make Your Workout Work for You

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Fact or Fiction: You can get an effective workout in just 20 minutes.

When it comes to exercise, any amount of physical activity is better than none at all. “Just moving is so important,” says Daniel Dinenberg, MD, a physician at One Medical Group. “If it’s 20 minutes of exercise, that’s 20 minutes that you’re not sitting.” But to get a highly effective workout in a short amount of time, you’ll need to push yourself hard.  A leisurely stroll isn’t going to cut it.

That’s where HIIT comes in. This buzzword in the fitness world stands for High Intensity Interval Training, and it’s the best way to get a great workout in a limited amount of time. HIIT can be applied to almost any form of aerobic exercise (including running or cycling), and professional athletes have been using it in their training for many years. The idea is to alternate between a sprinting pace and a more relaxed “recovery” pace, spending the same amount of time – usually one minute – at each pace before switching. If you do this for ten cycles of sprinting and recovery, you’ll complete a full workout in a mere 20 minutes. Studies have shown that a brief but intense workout like this–done three times a week–can actually get you more fit than spending hours doing more activity at a slower, steady pace. “You don’t have to go all-out to see these results,” says Dinenberg,  “but your ‘sprint’ segments do need to be strenuous enough to be a nine out of 10 on a Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale (RPE).” RPE is a subjective evaluation of how hard you feel you are working and is a good, intuitive way to evaluate how much to push yourself during the sprints.

The expert’s advice: Make time for physical activity at least five days a week.

If you want to get in shape by spending as little time as possible, HIIT is a great solution. But for your overall physical and mental health, the real key is to engage in exercise that you enjoy and will continue doing. “It’s good to have a balance of heart-pumping cardio workouts, some resistance training, plus movement that connects to your breath and helps ground you, like yoga,” recommends Dinenberg. An ideal weekly regimen would include three HIIT sessions to work your heart and lungs and to burn calories, two sessions of weightlifting or other resistance exercises to maintain and build muscle strength, and at least one session of something less taxing to allow for recovery and help with stress reduction–like yoga, stretching, or just a walk around the neighborhood with a friend.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.