You may have noticed that I’m always getting after you to exercise. Many people try to tell me that they don’t have time to exercise. I understand where they’re coming from. I’m busy myself, and I don’t want to spend an hour and a half at the gym every day. I understand that’s not realistic for the vast majority of us. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get an effective workout in. In fact, all you need is 20 minutes a day!
The way to get an effective workout in just 20 minutes is through interval training. I've written about this type of exercise before. But many people are skeptical that you can really get a good workout in with just 20 minutes of effort — especially since interval training includes built-in rest periods.
Well, according to research recently published in the American Journal of Physiology — Heart and Circulatory Physiology, you absolutely can benefit from this type of workout. In fact, it can help you lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes — even if you were in pretty good shape to begin with.
That's because this type of exercise helps improve your endothelial function, which improves your blood flow and blood vessel dilation and can reduce inflammation. Endothelial dysfunction is a warning sign of many chronic conditions, including diabetes. If you already have type-2 diabetes, endothelial dysfunction can contribute to blood flow issues and nerve damage. It's also a strong warning that your risk of cardiovascular disease is two to four times higher than average.
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Clearly, it's important to maintain healthy endothelial function. And according to this study, interval training is a great way to do that. The researchers divided 35 participants into three groups. One of the groups had type-2 diabetes. The other group didn't have diabetes, but they didn't exercise regularly either. The third group also didn't have diabetes, and they were regular exercisers.
The researchers asked all the groups to follow the same exercise regimen that took just 20 minutes to complete. First, the participants warmed up for three minutes. Then they alternated one minute of either cardio (riding a stationary bike) or resistance (performing weighted leg lifts) with one minute of rest for a total of 14 minutes. Then they spent three minutes cooling down.
The researchers evaluated blood flow in the participants' brachial arteries before the workout, immediately after the workout, and again one and two hours after the workout. They found that flow-mediated dilation, which is a way to measure endothelial function, improved for every group when they performed the workout using the resistance exercises. Those who had type 2 diabetes showed the biggest improvements. When the participants performed the workout with the cardio intervals, only the type-2 diabetes group and those who already exercised regularly saw improvements.
I know you're busy, but I guarantee that you'll spend more than 20 minutes a day managing your health if you end up with type-2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Instead, try incorporating this workout style into your daily routine. I think it's good to include both resistance and cardio intervals in your routine, and I've written before about some other interval patterns you can follow in addition to this one.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD