A one minute workout?

You have probably heard of people who do very short workouts—sometimes just a few minutes—but still get the same benefits as you do going for a long run or sweating through an hour on the elliptical machine. This type of exercise is called high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which involves short bouts of very intense exercise separated by periods of rest or light activity. I have written about this type of training previously (and before that, too), but a new study that has been in the news this past week makes revisiting this topic worthwhile.

Cycling class

Previous research has shown that shorter exercise sessions can be as effective as the typical 20-60 minutes of continuous exercise people commonly do to lose weight or get in shape. The catch is that these shorter bouts of exercise must be done at a very high intensity to promote improvements in maximal exercise capacity (called VO2max) and endurance by enhancing heart function and causing changes in the muscle itself. These adaptations can lead to improved fitness, performance, and health.

For example, in one study the intervals were as short as 30 seconds of all-out, maximal exercise separated by rest periods, for a total of just six minutes of exercise per day. Other studies employ slightly less intense intervals for a total of 20 minutes of exercise per session. Another study found that a single 4-minute bout of vigorous exercise was effective. Taken together, these studies show that HIIT leads to adaptations in the heart and muscle and improvements in VO2max and endurance that are greater than that of more traditional, lower intensity exercise.

A new study published last week ( excellent low-sci description here) showed that sessions of one minute—yes, 60 seconds—of intense exercise can match the fitness and health benefits of more traditional workouts. Subjects in the study completed three, 20-second bouts of all-out, near maximal exercise separated by two minutes of light cycling on a stationary bike. After doing this three times per week for 12 weeks the changes in heart rate, muscle function, and blood glucose regulation were the same as those experienced by subjects who did the same number of 45 minute workouts, but at a lower intensity.

Before you get too excited about only needing to exercise for a minute at a time, there are a few points to keep in mind. First, this type of exercise is very intense and may not be right for everyone. At the very least, it is likely to be uncomfortable. Second, exercising at a high intensity may not be a good idea if you are not already in good shape or have other health problems, like high blood pressure. Third, HIIT may not be the best way for you to meet your exercise goals. If you are trying to build endurance for a marathon or long distance bike ride, you really do need to focus on longer duration exercise at least some of the time.

Finally, if you add up the total exercise time, including the warm-up, time between intervals, and recovery, the “one minute” workout is more like 10 minutes of exercise. This is still shorter than what you would probably do anyway, but certainly not a true 60 second workout. And this type of training doesn’t do much to help you meet other fitness goals including improving strength and flexibility, so you will still need to spend additional time in the gym. The bottom line is that HIIT should be part of your exercise regimen, not the whole program.

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Your Park Prescription

Since Earth Day just passed you are probably thinking about ways you can “go green” to reduce your impact on the environment. Many of these choices are also good for your health. For example, choosing food from local farms is associated with fewer “food miles” and a lower environmental footprint. It is also likely to be picked at the peak of freshness, meaning it is richer in nutrients, not to mention flavor. Walking or biking instead of driving is another way to protect the environment while you protect your health.

When it comes to exercise, you can literally “go green.” Being active outdoors in nature leads to enhanced feelings of energy, improved mood, and diminished fatigue, anxiety, and anger compared to similar activity conducted indoors. Additionally, some research suggests that outdoor activity may improve attention and productivity in adults and children. Even though the physical, mental, and social benefits of activity in a natural environment are well established, most recommendations just focus on activity, not where it is done. Making the outdoors your destination for activities for you and your family is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

father and son walking in woods

The National Park Prescription (Park Rx) Initiative is designed to encourage people to make the outdoors their destination for exercise and family activities. In fact, April 24th was National Park Rx Day. The idea is to promote access to and use of parks, trails, and other green spaces and highlight the health, environmental, social, and economic benefits of having these resources in our communities. The benefits of parks can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of age or ability, so enhancing public lands should be a high priority.

This isn’t new of course, but it’s nice to have a reminder. At playgrounds you commonly see as many children playing in the trees that surround the swings, slides, and monkey bars as you see on the playground equipment. Grassy areas serve as picnic spots, impromptu sports fields, and places to run and play. Trails through the woods offer a place to hike and bike as well as trees to explore and climb. Lakes, rivers, and streams (called water trails) are perfect for rowing, paddling, and swimming. And many public parks and green spaces have paved trails so that people of all ages in strollers or wheelchairs can enjoy the outdoors.

Fortunately, there many excellent parks and natural areas to explore in the Aiken area. Aiken State Park, several county and city parks, and neighborhood playgrounds make it easy to find a place to be active outdoors. There is no better place to experience nature than the vast Hitchcock Woods, located right in the heart of Aiken. Community organizations like the GAIT Foundation are dedicated to expanding access to natural areas for all types of outdoor activates. This makes it easy to find a place to walk, run, bike, hike, climb, swim, paddle, push, or ride.

It also makes it easy to follow the Park Rx. Being active is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health and wellbeing. Activity in a natural environment has additional physical, mental, and social health benefits. Share these benefits with others by planning outdoor activities with your family and friends. For maximum effect, you should do this as often as possible—everyday is best. And it doesn’t need to be a day long excursion. Even taking the dog for a short walk, playing outside with the kids, or doing yard work are good ways to reap the benefits of being active outdoors.

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The Science of Sports Drinks

What do you drink during exercise? For most people, the answer is probably water. But many athletes and people who do vigorous exercise are likely to consume a sports drink, like Gatorade or Powerade, while they work out. While there are some differences among the various sports drinks, these beverages are specially formulated to meet the demands of athletes engaged in prolonged, intense exercise. In fact, most contain a similar combination of water, sugar, and salt, along with flavoring to make them palatable. Research and practical experience supports the use of sports drinks to improve performance in endurance events (think running and cycling) that last an hour or more. In my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week I explore the the components of sports drinks and why they may be beneficial—and when they aren’t.

Sports drink

Obviously, water is important for replacing sweat loss during exercise, something that is even more critical in a hot, humid environment. During intense exercise on a hot day, sweat losses can be well above one liter per hour. Failure to replenish this water loss can lead to poor performance due to physiological and psychological fatigue. In extreme cases, severe dehydration can lead to hyperthermia and heat stroke. For most athletes, 500–1000 ml (16–32 oz.) of fluid per hour is sufficient, but more may be needed to meet individual needs.

Carbohydrate replacement has long been associated with endurance performance. Vigorous exercise requires lots of carbohydrates in the form of glucose to fuel the active muscles. Your muscles can use 60–120 g of glucose per hour, depending on intensity. You store glucose in your liver and muscles as glycogen which gets broken down during exercise. But these supplies are limited and are diminished after an hour or so of intense exercise. Recommended intake is in the range of 30–60 g carbohydrate per hour during exercise to deliver glucose to the muscle sustain exercise. Almost any carbohydrate will work, but sports drinks contain sugars that are absorbed quickly. It is also essential to maintain blood glucose since, as I tell my students, “if your blood glucose drops, you drop!”

Sports drinks also contain some salt. First the salt replaces what you lose in your sweat, preventing a dangerous condition called hyponatremia. Fortunately, most people eat enough salt throughout the day and don’t lose enough in their sweat to create problems. Another reason for including salt is that glucose is absorbed with sodium, so having both gets the carbohydrates into your blood faster. Additionally, levels of sodium in the blood act to stimulate thirst. Consuming salt makes athletes thirsty, and thirsty athletes are more likely to drink more.

The composition of sports drinks is important, but the way they are consumed matters, too. Research shows that drinking smaller amounts of fluid more frequently, say 12 ounces every 15 minutes, is better than 32 ounces at the end of an hour. Carbohydrate content is important, but more isn’t necessarily better. Most sports drinks are in the range of 8%, which is ideal for getting the sugar absorbed into the blood. Drink temperature matters, too, and colder drinks are absorbed faster. Obviously, you are more likely to drink beverages that taste good, so finding a flavor you like is important.

Much of the research into hydration, sports drinks, and performance  has been done at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute. Despite the name, the research done by GSSI scientists has served to advance the knowledge of exercise physiologists, sports nutritionists, and sports medicine professionals as well as athletes, coaches, and trainers. The research and recommendations are relevant even if you don’t use Gatorade.

Now that you know what is in most sports drinks and why, you may wonder if you need one during exercise. Unless you are doing intense exercise lasting over an hour, probably not. Water is sufficient for most people who exercise. And consider this: sports drink contain as much sugar and calories as soda. If you are exercising to lose weight, a sports drink during (or after) exercise might sabotage your efforts!

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Too much of a good thing. Can you do too much exercise?

Is it possible to do too much exercise? Given the fact that most Americans do not meet minimum recommendations for physical activity, doing too much may not seem like an issue. To be sure, the biggest exercise problem most people face is not getting enough. But doing too much exercise can have negative effects.

This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Exercise fatigue

What constitutes too much exercise? First, let’s review the recommendations. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans call for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week and do strengthening exercises that involve all major muscle groups at least two days per week. This recommendation can be met by a 30 minute brisk walk five days per week or longer, more vigorous workouts two days per week.

Many people do more than this, often an hour or more of vigorous exercise each day. While this may seem like a lot of exercise, they built up to these workouts over months or even years. But they almost certainly started out with shorter, less intense exercise sessions. As their strength and endurance improved they increased the time and intensity of their training. Even now, they likely structure their workouts in order to allow recovery time. For example, a runner might do a long run one day followed by a shorter run the next. Weight lifters usually alternate muscle groups on different days: chest exercises on one day, arms the next, and so forth.

When beginning an exercise program, is it smart to start slowly and work your way up to longer, more intense sessions. A common occurrence is that new exercisers do too much too soon. This can lead to severe muscle soreness that limits the ability to exercise on the following days and, in some cases, injury. At the very least, a negative experience can cause a person to stop exercising. In fact, one of the most common reasons people quit an exercise program is injury or soreness early on. Taking it slow in the beginning can help you avoid these problems.

Even athletes with years of training experience can overdo it. Athletes are known for long, intense training sessions to develop the high levels of strength and endurance required to be competitive. But training too intensely or for too long can have negative effects. This phenomenon is called overreaching or overtraining and, for some athletes, can be as big a problem as not training enough. Overtraining can lead to poor immune function, reduced motivation, and fatigue, all of which can have a serious impact on performance.

Many competitive athletes intentionally do less in the days and weeks leading up to a big event. This is a process called tapering and it involves reducing training time and intensity, even including a rest day. This allows the muscles to recover and reduces the risk of injury. While many athletes—and coaches—think that a hard workout or practice before a big game is a good idea, failure to taper is more likely to lead to poor performance.

If you are like most people, you are probably not doing too much exercise. But you should make small increases in your time and intensity to reduce the chance of injury. If you are training for a run such as a 10k, half marathon, or longer event, you should cut back on your training time and plan a rest leading up to the race. And while more exercise is generally better for health and fitness, keep in mind that doing too much, especially early in a training program, can have the opposite effect.

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Diets don’t work!

Exercise can actually make you gain weight!

You can take supplements that will melt fat away while you sleep!

Claims like these should make you wonder if someone is trying to fool you. Since April Fools’ Day was last week, my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard is an attempt to uncover the truth about these common weight loss myths.

Diet pills

Diets don’t work
Considering that most people who lose weight end up gaining it back, this belief is understandable. The fact is that diets do work—that is how people lost weight in the first place! The problem is that many diets simply aren’t sustainable and don’t teach healthy eating habits necessary to keep the weight off. The result is that after the diet ends, a return to old eating patterns leads to gaining the weight back. The solution, of course, is to find a diet that you can stick with even after you have lost weight, one that teaches you how to make healthy choices and adapt your lifestyle.

Exercise doesn’t lead to weight loss
The traditional advice for losing weight is to eat less and exercise more. But some research suggests that exercise itself doesn’t lead to significant weight loss. In fact, exercise alone results in lower weight loss compared to diet only or diet plus exercise. While this is true, concluding that exercise isn’t important is a mistake.

First, even if exercise only leads to a small amount of weight loss (about a half pound per week in my experience) it does add up over time and can help someone achieve their weight loss goal more quickly. Second, research involving individuals who have succeeded at long-term weight loss in the National Weight Control Registry shows that exercise is important. It is noteworthy that 94% of these “successful losers” increased their physical activity in order to lose weight and 90% said that they maintain their weight by exercising an average of 60 minutes every day.

You can boost your metabolism and burn fat using supplements
Losing weight really does require making changes to your eating and exercise behaviors. Many of these changes can be difficult, so it is no surprise that people look for shortcuts. And there is no shortcut more appealing than a supplement that will increase your metabolism and burn fat while you sleep.

Keep in mind that there are no dietary supplements that have been shown to be effective for promoting long-term weight loss, despite what the manufacturers claim. In fact, some could even be dangerous. The only way to make a meaningful change in your metabolism is to exercise and significant weight loss simply won’t happen unless you change your diet.

Be especially skeptical when you see words like “flush” and “cleanse,” which are meaningless and have nothing to do with weight loss. There are a few prescription medications and one over-the-counter drug (Orlistat) that has been shown to promote weight loss—but only when combined with a healthy low-calorie diet and exercise.

Hopefully this advice will help you make healthy decisions and avoid becoming an “April Fool” when it comes to weight loss claims. The good news is that you can start losing weight today by making some simple changes including reducing your portion sizes at meals, choosing water or other calorie-free beverages when you are thirsty, and making it a point to be active every day. These modifications can lead to weight loss now and are exactly the type of changes you need to make to keep the weight off in the long run.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
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Off to the races: Running (or walking) in a race in your community is a great way to get motivated to exercise.

Most of us could benefit from getting more exercise and, with the warmer spring weather, this is a perfect time to get started. You can meet minimum health and fitness goals with a 30 minute brisk walk five days per week. You can get even greater fitness benefits by exercising for longer or by doing more vigorous activity, like running. A good goal is to be active every day for at least 30 minutes and include longer exercise sessions or more vigorous exercise when possible.

Many people are motivated by having a goal to start or add to an exercise program. You may find that training for an event is more rewarding than exercising for the sake of being active. An excellent goal is to prepare to walk or run in a race. Don’t let the word “race” scare you. Most people who enter these events have the goal of finishing, not winning. That should be your goal, too, as I explain in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

running legs

Now is a great time to start training for your first race. The warm weather is an incentive to be active outdoors, and it’s not too hot to be enjoyable. In addition, there are several events in our community in the upcoming weeks and months that are excellent opportunities for first-timers and more seasoned racers. Many events are linked to charities, so they are also good ways to raise money for a good cause.

If you are starting to walk for exercise, completing a 5K (5 kilometers or 3.1 miles) walk is a good goal. If you don’t currently exercise, start with a target of 20 minutes of walking per day. You can split this up into 10 minute segments, if necessary. After you are comfortable walking 20 minutes at a time, increase to 30 minutes per day. Continue increasing your walking time until you are up to 45-60 minutes per day, about how long it takes most people to walk three miles. If you already do some walking, gradually build up to this goal.

Maybe you already walk and are interested in trying running. Preparing for a 5K run is great motivation. Start by adding some jogging into your walking routine. Try alternating 5 minutes of jogging with 10 minutes of walking. Once you are comfortable with that, try 5 minutes of jogging for every 5 minutes of walking. Increase the duration of the running intervals over time, until you can run for 30–40 minutes consecutively. If running 3 miles is too much, you can always complete a 5K by alternating walking and running. There are apps for your smart phone that can help you make the transition from walking to jogging. One popular example is the Couch to 5K program and app.

To reduce the risk of injury you should progress slowly, whether you are walking or running. This is particularly important if you are building up to a longer event, like a half marathon or marathon. Obviously, training to walk or run 13.1 or 26.2 miles requires a good deal of time and motivation. Keep in mind that most people who complete their first half or full marathon started with a much shorter event.

Even if you don’t plan to participate in one of these events, the opportunity to get outdoors for a walk or run on a nice day is reason enough to be active. Exercising outdoors has benefits beyond the improvements in fitness or weight loss you would expect. Walking or running in a natural environment can give you a better workout and make you feel healthier and more energized.

Use this as an opportunity to get your friends and family moving with you. Kids can ride their bike while you walk or run and you can push younger children in a stroller. Older children may want to walk or run with you, and don’t forget to bring your dog!


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
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The case of the missing beach body. How to get yours back…and keep it!

Now that spring has arrived you may have noticed that your eating and exercise habits over the winter (or past several winters!) haven’t been kind to your body. For some people this comes as a surprise, and they wonder where their beach body from last summer went. For others, their beach body may long gone, but they want to lose some weight and get in shape before summer.

Obviously, this will mean making changes to what you eat and your exercise habits. If you want to lose 5–10 pounds and get back in shape, this means small changes to your diet and exercise designed to meet your fitness goals. If you have more significant weight to lose you will need a stricter diet and an exercise program that will help you to burn calories and build your strength, endurance, and flexibility.

While diet and exercise can help you get back in shape, staying in shape requires making lasting behavior changes. My Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week includes a few key questions that will help you find your missing beach body now and, importantly, not lose it again in the future.Luddington beach

When did you last see it?

Many people can identify a time in their life when their lifestyle changed and weight gain began. Commonly, this is getting married, starting a new job, or having children. Other people notice that they have gained weight, but can’t point to any specific reason why. In both cases, healthy eating and exercise routines get replaced with other less beneficial habits. The result for most people is gaining weight, either very quickly or slowly over time. Understanding what led to your weight gain is important for making changes to fix it.

How long has it been gone?

The longer you have been inactive and eating poorly, the longer you have been developing these unhealthy habits. The consequence is that it will be more challenging to undo the damage these habits have caused and teach yourself new habits that are consistent with better health. Your task is relatively easy if you have just gained a few pounds since last summer. Trying to reverse years or decades of inactivity and unhealthy eating is a bigger challenge, but one you simply must take on!

Where did you last see it?

The environment has a huge impact on our health, largely through influencing our activity and eating behaviors. In many cases, weight gain may be at least partly a consequence of where we spend our time. For example, a new job that involves long commutes by car and workdays spent sitting can make gaining weight almost inevitable. Quitting that job probably isn’t reasonable, but knowing how it has affected your health allows you to focus your efforts on increasing your activity outside of work. For many women, weight gain occurs after graduating from college, getting married, and having children. While there are many contributing lifestyle factors in this case, the change from an active college campus to a more sedentary environment certainly plays a role.

Once you figure out when and where you last saw your beach body you will have an idea of what you need to do to get it back. Keep in mind that the type of behavior changes you need to make to lose weight and get back in shape are difficult and will take time to adopt. While you shouldn’t expect any miracles in the next month or two, developing healthy eating and activity habits can have a miraculous effect on your weight, your health, and how you feel in the years to come!

Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
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 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr