How low can you go?

Everyone wants to do more in less time. This is especially true when it comes to exercise. Why work out for an hour if you can get the same benefit in half the time?

That’s the attraction of short-duration high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which research has found produces similar — and possibly better — health outcomes than longer, lower-intensity exercise.

HIIT consists of quick spurts of draining physical effort, followed by rest, repeated multiple times. HIIT workouts usually last from 15 to 30 minutes, compared with up to an hour of traditional lower-intensity exercises.

But now, science has explored whether you can shrink that 15- to 30-minute time frame even more without sacrificing gains. In other words, how low can you go? It turns out possibly quite low.

Short and sweet

A review published online March 24, 2021, by The Journal of Physiology looked at various trials involving HIIT workouts lasting less than 15 minutes, which the authors called low-volume HIIT.

They found that, compared with both regular HIIT training and moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, these shorter-duration HIIT workouts can produce equal or even greater improvements in various measures of health, like cardiorespiratory fitness, glucose control, and blood pressure.

Another study, in the October 2020 Diabetes Care, showed that as little as four minutes of low-volume HIIT, three times a week for 12 weeks, could lower blood sugar levels, reduce fat in the liver, and improve cardiorespiratory fitness in people with diabetes. These results were comparable to those from 45 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise.

All the right moves

But are these shorter HIIT workouts really the best moves? While the idea of a five- to 10-minute workout may sound appealing, HIIT workouts have their challenges, especially for older adults.

“Intensity is the key with any variation of HIIT,” says physical therapist Vijay Daryanani with Harvard’s Spaulding Rehabilitation Network. “A sufficient level of exertion needs to be met for the exercises to be effective.”

Also, “high intensity” can be difficult to judge. You want to work out hard enough to get the heart pumping to the point where you’re close to exhaustion, but without risking injury or overdoing it, which can be dangerous for some older adults. (It’s always best to check with your doctor first before fully engaging in a new routine like HIIT.)

Low-volume HIIT also requires keen attention to form and execution. “Since you work out for such a brief period, you have to ensure you maximize the moves for efficiency and safety,” says Daryanani. He suggests first seeing a trainer to learn proper technique before doing any HIIT-based routine. A trainer can also help create a sequence of exercises to fit your needs and limitations.

Give yourself time

Still, approached the right way, low-volume HIIT that lasts five to 10 minutes can be a valuable tool for your workouts. While it’s possible to make low-volume HIIT your primary exercise, Daryanani says it’s better as a complement to your regular routine. “Use it whenever you don’t have the time for a regular workout to ensure you get in some kind of movement, or if you need a spark to jump-start your motivation, or just to shake things up.”

If you do a low-volume HIIT session four days a week, then divide the routines: focus on your upper body one day and your lower body the next. If you do an HIIT workout once or twice a week, do an all-body routine each time. (See “Five by five” below for a sample workout.)

Perhaps the greatest appeal of low-volume HIIT is the reminder that doing something is always better than nothing. “A five- or 10-minute workout shows you are committed to your health, no matter how much time you have,” says Daryanani.

Five by fiveWant to try low-volume HIIT training? Here is an all-around routine to begin with that uses familiar exercises. Perform 10 to 12 reps for each of the five exercises. Go from one to the next with only a 10-second break in between. Once you have completed all five exercises, repeat the sequence for five minutes.Angle push-ups. Do them against a countertop or wall, so your body is positioned at a 45° angle. You can also do push-ups on the floor, regular or from the knees.Chair squats. These replicate the motion of standing from a seated position. Stand in front of chair like you are going to sit. Lower down into a squat until you barely touch the seat, and then come back up.Floor dips. Sit on the floor with bent knees. Place your hands behind you with the fingers pointing toward your body. Lift your hips off the floor. Now, slowly bend your elbows, lower your body close to the floor, and slowly push back up.Find stability with a charitable gift annuityWhen you establish a charitable gift annuity to benefit HMS, your gift will provide you and/or a loved one with a fixed income for life while supporting our mission to improve health and well-being for all.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:11

 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” – Proverbs 17:22

 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” – Philippians 4:6

 “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23

 “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” – James 1:2-3

 “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” – Proverbs 3:6

 “Commit your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed.”- Proverbs 16:3

 “Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” Luke 12:24 – Luke 12:24

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