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New Research Supports 30 Minute Workouts For Weight Loss

Breaking news from a research study conducted at the University of Copenhagen that has shown 30 minutes of daily exercise to provide an equally effective benefit on weight loss as 60 minute workouts.

For decades authoritative fitness and wellness organizations have shifted their recommendations on how much exercise individuals should do in order to maintain a healthy body weight.

However, over the past few years new research has continued to show that more isn’t necessarily better when it comes to exercise.

It appears there’s fallacy in the thinking that longer workouts are automatically better for weight loss solely because of increased caloric expenditure.

In today’s post we’ll look at this latest study and take an in-depth look at holes in the argument that prolonged aerobic exercise is best for weight loss.

More after the jump…

Alright, let’s first dig into the details of this study as published in the American Journal of Physiology. The research involved 60 overweight Danish men who had previously been sedentary and not exercising.

One third of the group were assigned to d0 30 minutes of exercise a day at an intensity level high enough to produce a sweat. They were also instructed to increase the intensity and give their workouts more effort three times a week.

One third of the group were assigned to do 60 minutes of aerobic exercise a day (no mention of prescribed intensity), and the last third of the group remained sedentary and did no exercise.

Not quite sure what the purpose was of having a third of the group do nothing (duh, what kind of weight loss would we expect there?), but let’s move on.

All exercisers wore heart-rate monitors and calorie counters during the exercise sessions to monitor energy expenditure and effort.

Following the three month study, this is what the researchers found much to their surprise:

On average the men who exercised for 3o minutes a day lost nearly 8 pounds, while those who exercised for a whole hour lost about 6 pounds.

This was despite of the fact that the 60-minute group burned twice as many calories, on average, as the 30-minute group!

M. Rosenkilde et al. AJP, 2012: DOI:10.1152

Scratching your head yet?

There’s a rationale explanation for this, stick with me.

Interestingly, the 30 minute group burned more calories than they should relative to the training program set for them. This is likely due to the fact they were told to increase intensity during three of their workouts each week and give extra effort.

Seeing how the workouts were shorter and seemingly more manageable in the exercisers’ eyes, they put forth more INTENSITY than the group doing hour long workouts.

I can’t emphasize the importance of intensity as I really believe it was one of the difference makers in this study. Although it’s seldom discussed, I believe you can find several factors outside of mere caloric expenditure that directly impact lipolysis (fat burning) in exercisers.

Quite simply there are are complexities with the hormonal and metabolic responses to exercise that researchers still don’t fully understand. One thing is clear however, the higher the intensity, the more pronounced metabolic and hormonal responses will be.

This is one of the main reasons why I’m such a big proponent of “burst training” due to the methodology of short bursts of high intensity effort. It’s not necessarily how long you workout, but rather the intensity of effort given during that time that produces results.

I’ve built an entire business model around the concept of 30 minute workouts using burst training methods and the results of hundreds of clients who have transformed their body with sound nutrition and brief, but intense workouts, speaks for itself.

It’s not necessarily that more aerobic or cardiovascular activity is bad or counter-productive for that matter. Sure there can be benefits of increased energy expenditure, but intensity will always trump duration.

This can be used to explain why those who do burst training in combination with additional cardiovascular exercise will often see improved results.

In my experience however, DIET is without question the limiting factor and most important part of the equation. It will have more impact on weight loss than any amount of exercise, regardless of the intensity. As we like to say at Shaping Concepts, “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet.”

Let’s look at some of factors that support 30 minute workouts, especially for those who are just starting out on an exercise routine.

Longer exercise sessions often resulting in more calories consumed afterwards…

One of the pitfalls of longer duration 60 minute workouts that involve more caloric expenditure, is the tendency of beginner exercisers to consume more calories following their workouts.

To put it simply, the longer aerobic workouts increases hunger levels, so exercisers have a tendency to eat more and often feel justified in doing so. Research has shown this connection time and again.

The longer an individual sticks with a personal fitness program the more likely they are to be consistent with a supportive nutrition diet. In other words, this opens up the door to increasing the duration of workouts by adding some extra aerobic exercise without necessarily downing more calories in meals afterwards.

Once again, I’ll emphasize it’s not essential that individuals looking to lose body fat necessarily need to focus on increasing the duration of their workouts by doing extra cardio.

Thirty minutes of exercise on a daily basis (5 times a week for that matter) is sufficient so long as the intensity is progressively increased. Dietary manipulation will continue to be the primary factor.

The motivation factor with exercise…

Another key factor I often cite to support 30 minute workouts is the increased probability for beginner exercisers to stay motivated and consistent with their routines.

Let’s face it, setting the expectation for 30 minutes of exercise is much more doable in the mind of someone just starting out than telling them they need to do an hour. For that matters, this goes for most anyone with a busy lifestyle trying to fit in time for exercise.

According to the press release on this aforementioned study as reported on in Science Daily News, the researchers speculated that, “some of the explanation for the surprising results is that 30 minutes of exercise is so doable that participants in the study has the desire and energy for even more physical activity after their daily exercise session.”

Humm….who would have figured?

But seriously, I don’t think we can omit the fact that consistency is such an important contributing factor. If a person is likely to burn out or lose motivation and drop out of their exercise routine, the alternative with being in-active is certainly going to be a negative.

I’m convinced that body transformations are won or lost in the battleground of the mind. There’s not nearly enough talk about the mind-body connection with weight loss. One thing is for certain, the more doable an exercise routine is, the more likely a person will be to stick with it and give it their all.

What other recent research is showing in regards to exercise and weight loss…

Just within the past several years we’ve seen more and more credible research that tends to debunk the idea that aerobic exercise (and the more the better) is the key to weight loss. Consider the following:

A six month study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism showed the addition of 50 minutes of aerobic exercise, 5 days a week, had NO EFFECT on body composition over dieting alone.

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2007 Mar.

If that’s not eye opening enough, here’s a twelve month study published in the Obesity Journal that looked to show the impact of exercise alone on overweight men and women.

In this study, approximately 200 overweight men and women (age 40-75) participated with the test group instructed to perform a whopping six hours of aerobic training per week for one year (60 minutes per day, six days per week). I think we’d all agree that’s a lot of aerobic exercise!

In the control group there was no intervention or exercise protocol. Also there was no dietary intervention in either group as the study looked to show the impact of aerobic exercise alone on body composition.

Following ONE YEAR, the exercise group showed an average weight loss of 3.5 lbs or about 0.3 lbs per month!

McTiernan et al. Obesity 2007 June- 15:1496-1512

I’m sure this group was thrilled after performing that much exercise six days a week for a year. And we wonder why people get frustrated with not seeing weight loss from their exercise and eventually end up quitting.

The very type of exercise that is thought by many to be “the way” to weight loss produced diddly-squat even when done in such high frequency and long duration.

If this isn’t enough to make a case for the importance of diet over exercise, and the idea that aerobic exercise (and the more the better) isn’t necessarily the best way to lose weight, I don’t know what will be.

There’s compelling research to confirm the combination of dietary intervention with strength training AND cardio to likely be the optimal approach. More on that another day.

Bottom line…

This latest research supports the idea that 30 minutes of daily exercise may be just as effective, if not more, than trying to do longer duration workouts. As we’ve learned there are several factors that support this conclusion that go far beyond the concept of caloric expenditure.

All I can surmise from personal experience on myself and the clients we’ve worked with at Shaping Concepts, is that 30 minutes can be more than enough if intensity is progressively increased and dietary changes are made.

Intensity and the idea of increased effort with workouts really does seem to hold more importance than the time spent exercising.

What say you?

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. He specializes in helping people achieve a body transformation with burst training exercise and whole food nutrition. You can receive a FREE no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal fitness programs and start experiencing the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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