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

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank John Fox for technical assistance, and Paul Aikman, Ben Ashcroft, Barnaby Barber, Sarah Dunnett, Mahmoud Gholoum, Liam Harper, Andrew Hebson, Adam Reed, Keith Simpson and Alison Thomson for assistance with testing and the training sessions. The study was funded by Heriot-Watt University.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Niels B. J. Vollaard.

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Communicated by David C. Poole.

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Metcalfe, R.S., Babraj, J.A., Fawkner, S.G. et al. Towards the minimal amount of exercise for improving metabolic health: beneficial effects of reduced-exertion high-intensity interval training. Eur J Appl Physiol 112, 2767–2775 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-011-2254-z

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Keywords

  • Insulin sensitivity
  • Glycaemic control
  • Aerobic capacity
  • HIT