The 30-second workout: Too good, but possibly still true

Research at the University of Calgary's Human Performance Lab is focusing on the least amount of exercise we can get away with while still reaping health benefits.

U of C researchers study how minimal exercise can make us healthier

Danilo Iannetta puts a study participant through 30-second intervals on a stationary bike and measures oxygen levels at the mouth and in the muscles. (Exercise Physiology Lab/University of Calgary)

The 30-second workout may sound like just another fitness fad, but University of Calgary researchers are studying the least amount of exercise we can get away with — and still reap health benefits.

Danilo Iannetta, a PhD student, and assistant professor Dr. Juan Murias at the university's Human Performance Lab are trying to determine the "absolute minimum" of regular exercise needed to improve a person's health.

So far, the findings are encouraging, especially among sedentary older adults between 60 and 75, Iannetta told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday.

Interval training

There has been a lot of research done in a related fitness trend called High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), says Iannetta. Those findings show "even two minutes, three minutes" are very effective.

Iannetta's team is knocking that exercise time down to 30-second intervals.

So far, results show that less exercise at a higher frequency can equate to the same amount as higher exercise less frequently.

"We can improve health just by doing 30 seconds of exercise," he says. "This improvement is sustained for 24 hours."

You can't slack off and only exercise occasionally, however. To continue making progress, Iannetta says the exercise must be done every other day. 

More oxygen found in muscles

The study takes total body cardiovascular readings, measuring oxygen consumption at the mouth level and on muscles, using a device that attaches to the skin.

"We can measure the amount of oxygen ... the higher the oxygen the better your muscular response," Iannetta said. 

One of the activities in the study is riding a stationary bike for three 30-second intervals with a rest period in between.

The goal is to use the approach to plan a longer training program for people, said Iannetta, who will present his findings at an upcoming conference in Denver. 

Iannetta is also looking to expand his research to study men ages 18 to 35.

"I'm pretty sure we could find the same younger adults," he said. 

Anyone interested in participating in the study can contact him at or call 403-220-3497.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener