Can three minutes of exercise a week help make you fit?

From the BBC website:

A few relatively short bursts of intense exercise, amounting to only a few minutes a week, can deliver many of the health and fitness benefits of hours of conventional exercise, according to new research, says Dr Michael Mosley. But how much benefit you get from either may well depend on your genes.

This seems unbelievable to me. But there is some limited data to back up the claims.

For a fuller explanation and some fascinating videos of the technique in action, checkout the Horizon broadcast (only for UK viewers I suspect).

Physical exercise and vascular risk

From Circulation, the Physical Activity and Inflammatory Markers Over 10 Years: Follow-Up in Men and Women from the Whitehall II Cohort Study

Background—Inflammatory processes are putative mechanisms underlying the cardio-protective effects of physical activity. An inverse association between physical activity and inflammation has been demonstrated but no long-term prospective data are available. We therefore examined the association between physical activity and inflammatory markers over a 10-year follow-up period.

Methods and Results—Participants were 4289 men and women (mean age 49.2 years) from the Whitehall II cohort study. Self-reported physical activity and inflammatory markers (serum high-sensitivity C-reactive protein [CRP] and interleukin-6 [IL-6]) were measured at baseline (1991) and follow-up (2002). Forty-nine percent of the participants adhered to standard physical activity recommendations for cardiovascular health (2.5 hours per week moderate to vigorous physical activity) across all assessments. Physically active participants at baseline had lower CRP and IL6 levels and this difference remained stable over time. In comparison to participants that rarely adhered to physical activity guidelines over the 10 years follow-up, the high adherence group displayed lower logeCRP (β=-0.07, 95% CI, -0.12, -0.02) and logeIL-6 (β=-0.07, 95% CI, -0.10, -0.03) at follow up after adjustment for a range of covariates. Compared to participants that remained stable, those that reported an increase in physical activity of at least 2.5 hours/wk displayed lower loge CRP (B coefficient =-0.05, 95% CI, -0.10, -0.001) and loge IL-6 (B coefficient =-0.06, 95% CI, -0.09, -0.03) at follow up.

Conclusions—Regular physical activity is associated with lower markers of inflammation over 10 years of follow-up and thus may be important in preventing the pro-inflammatory state seen with ageing.

Keep running. The only way out is through.