Start With One Hour A Week

Chicago Tribune, 11/04/11

You’ve got to love a fitness expert whose exercise mantra is “make it short and sweet.”

How short? Twenty minutes, three times a week. But even less at first.

For those of us who are, shall we say, exercise averse, this is magical.

Federal guidelines advise Americans age 18 to 64 to get 2 1/2 hours a week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.

Frank Comstock, Tucson, Ariz., doctor and author of the book “Antiaging 101,” specializes in wellness and anti-aging. He insists that all it takes to truly be fit is an hour a week. So why not start there? Anything is better than nothing!

You’ll also be happy to hear Comstock say, “If I’m out of shape, the last place I would go is a gym. You see all these machines, and you see these guys walking around. You don’t know what you’re doing. The key is to find something you like.”

So, how does this 20-minute workout do the job? It’s all about “interval training,” he says, which means short bursts of higher intensity aerobics, then returning to shorter periods of lower intensity. For instance, walk at a normal pace for two minutes than as fast as you can for 20 or 30 seconds. Then repeat. Gradually increase the fast bursts and decrease the slow ones.

Comstock recommends:

Find the exercise that is least objectionable, like walking, swimming, jump rope, jumping jacks, doing squats.

If you’re just beginning, pick a shorter time — even 5 minutes twice a week — then build up slowly.

Don’t give up. If you’re at the 20 minute/three times a week level and just don’t feel like exercising, employ the 10-minute rule. “Start your exercise session and plan on working out for only 10 minutes” that day, he recommends.

If that doesn’t work, “look in the mirror.” Sometimes, says Comstock. That’ll probably be enough to get you back off the couch and into your interval zone again.

Dr. Jonny Comments:

Interval training is definitely the 21st century way to exercise. Enduring an hour at a time on a treadmill, mindlessly staring at the television and wishing the time would go faster is just not an effective option for weight loss (though steady state aerobics like walking briskly continues to be a terrific way to stay healthy.)

If you’re “just” looking to fitness as a way of staying healthy and living longer– hardly a bad goal!– by all means walk every day. But if, like many, you’re also hoping to lose weight, interval training is a far better way to go. You burn more calories, lose more fat, build some muscle, and accomplish all this in less than half the time.

It’s a matter of training smarter not harder.

As the Tribune article points out, interval training is as simple as alternating “high” intensity periods of exercise (as short as 30 seconds) with “lower” intensity periods of exercise. The variations are endless. After a brief warm-up, you could walk at a brisk pace for say two minutes, push yourself for 30 seconds, then go back to walking briskly for another two, repeating the sequence 3-10 times.

You increase the intensity of the exercise by going faster during your “high” intervals, by shortening the length of time of the “low” intervals (also known as “active rest”), by increasing the number of sequences, or by any combination thereof.

Interval training also bleeds into circuit training, another very effective way of working out. Traditionally, the term “circuit-training” was applied to weight training routines where you went quickly from one exercise to another, without much rest. You could, for example, go from bench press to sit-ups to leg lifts continuing on this way till you finished the whole body (and then repeating the circuit again or even three times).

Some folks mix the two in a kind of circuit-interval training wherein after a few weight training exercises, you jump on a piece of “aerobic” equipment like the stairmaster, do a fast high-intensity two or three minutes, and then start your weight training exercises again.

Here’s an example:

(after warm-up)

1. Chest press

2. Sit-ups

3. Leg raises

4. Two minutes on stairmaster

5. Lat pull-downs

6. Tricep dips

7. Shoulder presses

8. Two minutes on treadmill


You can do incredibly effective workouts using this high-intensity model, hit all your body parts, train your cardiovascular system, and build some toned muscle in the bargain. It’s way more effective– for weight loss and weight maintenance– than long slow aerobics.

One of the best pieces of home exercise equipment for interval training I’ve ever seen is the Xiser. It’s small and portable, very sturdy, and gets the job done. You only have to do about 4 one minute intervals a day on it, but boy are they challenging! For those who would prefer not to go to the gym every time they work out, an Xiser and a bunch of home dumbbells, bands or even water jugs is all you need to stay in shape.