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Finding The Minimum Effective Dose

by Meaghan posted June 20, 2013

In the past, we’ve recommended a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise – either continuous or broken up into 10-minute bouts throughout the day – on most days of the week for the general population. More recently, we amended this recommendation to include an alternative option of at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise 2-3 times per week. But some people still can’t seem to “find” the time to exercise…


When I hear this excuse, my first response is usually this: “If you’re trying to ‘find’ time, you’ll probably wind up looking forever. You need to make time.” That is, you need to make exercise a priority if you ever hope to fit it into your schedule. But hearing this excuse so often has had one undeniable benefit: It has driven exercise researchers to continually explore the concept of ‘minimum effective dose.’

At this stage of the game, most of us are familiar with the Tabata study, which showed a protocol consisting of eight work intervals of 20 seconds in duration interspersed with 10 seconds of rest (four minutes total) to be equally if not more beneficial for improving Vo2 max and anaerobic capacity as 30 minutes of steady state exercise. We think it may be effective for fat loss as well when EPOC – or “Excessive Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption” – is taken into account.  The kicker is, the study subjects were athletes and those eight work intervals were at 170% of VO2 max – that’s ALL OUT and then some. And the fact remains, it’s tough to get the general population to work that hard – even for four minutes.

What about other measures of health? Well, we now also have a study that suggests the minimal effective dose might still be just four minutes for improvements in metabolic and cardiovascular health.

According to THIS ARTICLE recently published in The New York Times, when 26 sedentary, overweight, middle-aged men were asked to perform EITHER four four-minute intervals at 90 percent of maximum heart rate interspersed with three minutes of slow walking between (a total of 25 minutes) OR just ONE four-minute strenuous run, similar improvements were seen in blood pressure and blood sugar control after 10 weeks at the same frequency (three times per week).

I think anyone can “find” 12 minutes a week to work out without looking too hard… You probably spend more time complaining about not having time to work out!


Filed under: exercise research, news, workout tips

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