Just one minute of exercise per week is enough to provide health benefits to people over the age of 65, according to UK researchers, who are backing a change in guidelines as a result of their findings.
The researchers said they found that a once weekly exercise session was enough to produce improvements in blood glucose control and general mobility.
Therefore, they suggest that the minimum time and frequency of exercise required for older patients is much lower than currently recommended.
“Our results provide further support for the inclusion of this form of training in the guidelines”
The study, by Abertay University in Dundee and Edinburgh Napier University, is the first study to look at training frequency with sprint interval training (SIT) in older adults.
It involved groups of 65- to 75-year-olds participating in either once or twice weekly training sessions for eight weeks.
Each of the 34 participants had previously been living a sedentary lifestyle and had not been taking part in regular exercise.
The study saw them allocated to stationary bikes and then asked to cycle as hard as they were able to for six seconds before resting for at least a minute.
They repeated the process, known as SIT, until they had exercised for a total of one minute, said the researchers.
They noted that, as people aged, they lost the ability to take glucose out of their blood which resulted in insulin resistance and could lead to type 2 diabetes and heart and liver problems.
Following eight weeks, two-hour blood glucose was decreased in both exercise groups, according to the findings published in the International Journal Environmental Research and Public Health.
The average change for the once a week group was 0.41 mmol and 1.32 mmol for the twice a week group. In contrast, in the control group, there was an increase by an average of 0.80 mmol.
Lead study author Dr John Babraj, from Abertay, said: “We’ve found that SIT, whether it’s done once a week or twice a week, improves the ability to get glucose out of the system.
“While those participating in the twice-weekly sessions observed a greater improvement, those taking part in the single session also observed change,” he said.
“Importantly, they also observed a difference in general function, greatly improving their ability to do everyday tasks such as getting up to answer a door and walk up and down stairs.
“These are major issues for older people,” he said. “As we lose physical function, we start to become socially isolated, and as we become socially isolated our quality of life declines significantly.”
Dr Babraj said he wanted to see SIT introduced to the government’s physical-activity guidelines.
“Currently, older adults are advised to participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week, and that can be difficult to accrue," he noted.
“Both of our groups produced greater adaptations than what we would expect the smallest worthwhile change to be."
He added: “Our results provide further support for the inclusion of this form of training in the guidelines as one of the methods to gain health benefits.”