I was sitting down on the couch today, watching telly, as you do. Too much of which can really do you harm, of course. It's one of life's guilty pleasures I guess. Something we all know we should do less of, but can't help.
Anyway, tonight's Horizon on BBC2 was about a breakthrough in understanding exercise and its effects on the body.
The basic premise was that (and here is when I awoke from my stupor, big time), 3 minutes of high intensity exercise PER WEEK will significantly improve your insulin response in just 4 weeks and by the 6th week, will start increasing your VO2 MAX.
Frankly, I was stunned. It doesn't seem right that something so easy to do should reap such benefits. (A bit like eating Paleo really).
Anyway, why are these things so important? Well, here goes.
Insulin Response. Why is it important to us? When you eat carbohydrates, your blood sugar level rises, this causes the body to release insulin to regulate the levels. There is an overlap, when the blood sugar level has fallen to normal, but there's a bit of excess insulin still circulating. This is why you often feel hungry after eating a lot of pasta or some doughnuts. (Not that you ever should, but hey). Anyway, this still holds true for those of us who eat Paleo, and if losing that excess weight is important to you, then the last thing you want is to be feeling hungry not long after you've eaten.
Insulin resistance provides a double whammy, really. On the one hand, it takes glucose from the blood and stores it away as fat, then it means you're hungry, and the whole cycle repeats. Nasty eh?
The way round this, is simple, getting your body to function with less insulin, getting it to react faster, to a smaller dose will not only minimise the hunger pangs, but also leave you in much better shape to face the world.
By switching to a broadly paleo diet you can reduce the big spikes in insulin that come along whenever you eat very high carb. food, like bread, pasta etc. Simply by NOT eating them. Secondly, following a HIT program your body gets better at regulating blood sugar levels and therefore requires less insulin.
VO2 Max is the amount of oxygen your body can use during bouts of intense effort. It's measured in millilitres of oxygen per kilogram of bodyweight.
It's important, because it's an excellent indicator of your cardio vascular fitness. (The shape your heart and lungs are in). As you know, the better the shape, the less likely you are to suffer heart attacks, strokes etc.
Now that is out of the way, how do we improve these two vital functions?
Altogether now....HIGH INTENSITY TRAINING!
It's so simple it sounds mad, but then didn't the paleo diet sound mad? And that's looking good now, isn't it?
Monday, Wednesday and Friday - 3 sets, 20 seconds each, maximum effort.
Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday - Rest.
That's it! Seriously. If you want to go for a long walk, or lift some weights on your rest days, sure, go for it. Just make sure you do the HIT stuff on the right days, for the full minute!
So what sort of exercise should you do?
Well, sprinting is great, uphill especially as it reduces the impact on your joints. Cycling, it's the ideal thing for a stationary bike. You could even swim. The important thing to remember is you have to put everything you have into this, for the whole 20 seconds, so that you have nothing left in the tank. Then you rest and do it again once you've got your breath back.
It really is that easy.
If you want to look at the science behind it, have a look here
and here for the Horizon episode.
One disclaimer I'd like to add is that if you aren't used to exercise, go see the Doctor, first, as I'd hate to have your lawyer write to me.
Good luck and enjoy the 3 minutes a week you work out!