Original Article

European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 112, Issue 7, pp 2767-2775

First online:

Towards the minimal amount of exercise for improving metabolic health: beneficial effects of reduced-exertion high-intensity interval training

  • Richard S. MetcalfeAffiliated withSchool of Life Sciences, Heriot-Watt University
  • , John A. BabrajAffiliated withSchool of Social and Health Sciences, University of Abertay
  • , Samantha G. FawknerAffiliated withSchool of Life Sciences, Heriot-Watt UniversitySchool of Education, University of Edinburgh
  • , Niels B. J. VollaardAffiliated withSchool of Life Sciences, Heriot-Watt UniversityDepartment for Health, University of Bath Email author 

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High-intensity interval training (HIT) has been proposed as a time-efficient alternative to traditional cardiorespiratory exercise training, but is very fatiguing. In this study, we investigated the effects of a reduced-exertion HIT (REHIT) exercise intervention on insulin sensitivity and aerobic capacity. Twenty-nine healthy but sedentary young men and women were randomly assigned to the REHIT intervention (men, n = 7; women, n = 8) or a control group (men, n = 6; women, n = 8). Subjects assigned to the control groups maintained their normal sedentary lifestyle, whilst subjects in the training groups completed three exercise sessions per week for 6 weeks. The 10-min exercise sessions consisted of low-intensity cycling (60 W) and one (first session) or two (all other sessions) brief ‘all-out’ sprints (10 s in week 1, 15 s in weeks 2–3 and 20 s in the final 3 weeks). Aerobic capacity (\( \dot{V}{\text{O}}{}_{ 2}{\text{peak}} \)) and the glucose and insulin response to a 75-g glucose load (OGTT) were determined before and 3 days after the exercise program. Despite relatively low ratings of perceived exertion (RPE 13 ± 1), insulin sensitivity significantly increased by 28% in the male training group following the REHIT intervention (P < 0.05). \( \dot{V}{\text{O}}{}_{ 2}{\text{peak}} \) increased in the male training (+15%) and female training (+12%) groups (P < 0.01). In conclusion we show that a novel, feasible exercise intervention can improve metabolic health and aerobic capacity. REHIT may offer a genuinely time-efficient alternative to HIT and conventional cardiorespiratory exercise training for improving risk factors of T2D.


Insulin sensitivity Glycaemic control Aerobic capacity HIT