Originally published Jan. 11, 2019 in the Illawarra Mercury.

By Damon Cronshaw

A short, high-intensity workout two to three times a week can greatly improve physical and mental health.

So says University of Newcastle Professor David Lubans, a researcher in the field of high-intensity interval training.

This training involves short bursts of exercise in between brief periods of low-intensity movement or rest.

As part of his research, the professor enlisted 68 students aged 16 to 18 from Merewether and Kotara high schools to participate each week in three blocks of 10-minute high-intensity interval training sessions. This was part of a 14-week pilot program dubbed “Burn 2 Learn”.

The program led researchers to find that high-intensity interval training at school had positive effects on physical fitness and mental health. Professor Lubans said these benefits could be achieved by anyone.

He added that it was a type of exercise that made sense in a time-poor world.

“For people who are looking to get maximum benefit from a short workout, it’s an absolute no-brainer,” he said.

When doing this type of exercise, he recommends aiming for about 85 percent of maximum heart rate. The key for many people – those who lack time or don’t particularly enjoy exercise – is that they don’t have to work hard for long.

“There is evidence that even working for one minute a day can result in improvements to fitness and cardio-metabolic health. Most people are never going to work at that level.”

A more practical way to do high-intensity exercise was to work at the 85 percent level, he said.

“You’ll see improvements in fitness and health if you do a 10-minute workout of eight to 10 intervals of 30 seconds on and off,” he said, adding that people should remember to warm up first. “The harder you work, the shorter amount of time you have to work.”

The activity can be any number of exercises including running, swimming, cycling, boxing and dancing.

“Walking up stairs is a great example of a low-impact activity that can be considered high-intensity exercise. It’s even better if you can integrate some resistance exercise ,” he said.

As well as having physical benefits, high-intensity exercise also benefits the mind. People often experience improved wellbeing, comparable to the so-called runner’s high.

“The mental-health effects are as important as the physiological improvements, if not more important,” he said. “Even if you don’t feel like doing it, you will feel better afterwards.”

Professor Lubans said people should build up towards high-intensity exercise.

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