You would be hard pressed to find someone in America who hasn't felt the effects of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Heart disease is currently the leading cause of death in America, and even children begin developing the risk factors for the disease. While exercise has long been touted as an important preventative measure for CVD, the latest research indicates that short sprints or high intensity exercise may be more effective than long, steady cardio.
The Research and Results
Duncan Buchan from the University of the West of Scotland led a group of researchers to compare the benefits of high intensity and steady state exercise on early markers of cardiovascular disease. They recruited a group of 57 boys and girls, randomly separating them into two groups: high intensity exercise and steady state exercise. The study took place over the course of seven weeks, and both groups participated in exercise sessions three times a week. The steady state exercise group spent each session jogging at a steady state for 20 minutes while the high intensity group spent each session running a series of 20 meter sprints.
By the end of the last session, the steady state exercise group had performed a total of 420 minutes of exercise, burning an average of 4,410 calories. In contrast, the high intensity group had performed only 63 total minutes of exercise, accounting for a calorie burn of 907 calories.
While both groups saw an improvement in cardiovascular risk factors, improved cardiorespiratory fitness, blood pressure, body composition and insulin resistance, the high intensity group saw the same improvements in a fraction of the time.
If you've always been someone who prefers sprints, who enjoys playing sports like basketball and soccer or who is simply short on time, you can still protect your heart by focusing on short bursts of high intensity exercise.
For a quick and effective high intensity workout, head to your local track and walk the straightaways and sprint the curves. Take eight laps around the track and you're done for the day. Just make sure you're really pushing yourself on the sprints to maximize the benefits.
Sign up for a fitness class.
Laura Williams writes about exercise and fitness for Exercise.com through her regular column "Exercise Science". She is currently completing her master's in Exercise Science.