Only twelve minutes of exercise each week is enough to stay fit, according to a new study in PLOS One.

The research, conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, found that four-minute bursts of vigorous physical activity three times each week could elevate oxygen intake levels as well as lower blood pressure and glucose levels.

The scientists said:

"Regular exercise training improves maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max), but the optimal intensity and volume necessary to obtain maximal benefit remains to be defined. A growing body of evidence suggests that exercise training with low-volume but high-intensity may be a time-efficient means to achieve health benefits."

For the current study, the investigators observed the impact of different exercise regimes. A total of 26 inactive, overweight, but otherwise healthy male subjects participated in the ten-week program.

The men were divided into two groups - one group (the 1-AIT group) exercised three times a week in four-minute sessions and the other group (the 4-AIT) undertook sixteen-minute sessions that were broken into four minute bouts.

Oxygen intake increased by comparable amounts in both groups. The four-minute group experienced a 10% increase, while the 16-minute group experienced a 13% increase.

The 16-minute exercise group, however, were able to reduce cholesterol and body fat more successfully. A prior study in Mayo Clinic Health Letter showed that cholesterol levels are a telling indicator of diet and exercise.

A single session of strenuous physical activity performed three times every week may be a time-efficient strategy to improve fitness and lower blood pressure in healthy middle-aged people who were inactive in the past, according to the results.

Author Arnt Erik Tjønna said:

"A growing body of evidence suggests that exercise training with low-volume but high-intensity may be a time-efficient means to achieve health benefits.

The 1-AIT type of exercise training may be readily implemented as part of activities of daily living and could easily be translated into programs designed to improve public health."

Healthcare experts recently indicated that long, high endurance exercise may produce risks for physically unfit individuals. Therefore, this method of working out could help create a safer way of maintaining personal fitness.

A previous report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that only 20% of American adults are getting enough exercise.

A report from Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that obesity rates in the USA are holding steady for the first time in three decades.

Written by Sarah Glynn