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Short Bursts of Intense Activity Improve Insulin Sensitivity

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“The efficacy of a high intensity exercise protocol, involving only ~250 kcal of work each week, to substantially improve insulin action in young sedentary subjects is remarkable. This novel time-efficient training paradigm can be used as a strategy to reduce metabolic risk factors in young and middle aged sedentary populations who otherwise would not adhere to time consuming traditional aerobic exercise regimes.”

Researchers at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland have discovered that as little as 2-3 minutes, 3 times per week of High Intensity Interval Training significantly improved insulin sensitivity by 23% in just 2 weeks!  Participants exercised strenuously for 30 second bursts over 2 weeks, completing just 4-6 of these short bursts on 6 out of 14 days.

The study found that:

  • The area under the curve (AUC) for
    • plasma glucose reduced by 12 %
    • insulin reduced by 37 %
    • NEFA (non-esterified fatty acid) concentration time reduced by 26 %
  • Aerobic performance improved by around 6%

Simple examples of HIIT that could easily fit into your everyday life might include

  • running up a few flights of stairs for 30 seconds
  • sprinting up the street or around the block for 30 seconds
  • strenuously punching a punching bag for 30 seconds
  • doing star jumps for 30 seconds
  • skipping rope for 30 seconds

High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT has become popular in recent years as an alternative to long hard slogs at the gym or on the field.  HIIT provides the same or better aerobic and fat burning benefits as traditional forms of exercise but with a much reduced time commitment involved.

You get the idea – almost anything strenuous for only 30 seconds at a time will help you increase your insulin sensitivity tremendously.  Everyone can do this … sometimes it is hard for us to fit a half hour exercise session into our day, but EVERYONE can fit at least one 30 second session into their day, EVERY SINGLE DAY.  It takes hardly any time, no preparation and probably won’t even make you sweat!


Babraj JA, Vollaard NBJ, Keast C, Guppy FM, Cottrell G, Timmons JA. Extremely short duration high intensity interval training substantially improves insulin action in young healthy males. BMC Endocrine Disorders 2009, 9:3 doi:10.1186/1472-6823-9-3

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1 comment to Short Bursts of Intense Activity Improve Insulin Sensitivity

  • Rosabel

    I feel so much happier now I understand all this. Thank you for taking the time to share it!

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