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Fit in Four Minutes

September 17, 20213 min read

In this episode of Lifestyle Matters we discuss getting fit in four minutes.


Many of us are time poor due to the various responsibilities and pressures we face these days. As a result, despite the awareness that exercise is tremendously beneficial for our health, it seems to be put on the backburner more often than not. This is the reality most of us face but, there is a possible way out of this- the 4 minute Tabata style workout.

Before we go into the nitty gritty of HIIT style workouts, we need to emphasize that exercise is something that anyone who can walk 100 metres should be able to do. The intensity, duration and fitness goals are the aspects that need to be worked out based on a person's pre-existing fitness level. Key points to make are:
• Warm up
• Start slow and go slow
• Increase duration by 20% each session if previous exercise was tolerated
• Increase intensity by 5% HRR every 6th session if previous exercise was tolerated
• Cool down
• Do it with a friend!
• Set alarms / reminders to engage in exercise

Some people may need a medical screen; for example, those with known uncontrolled cardiovascular, metabolic or renal disease. It does not mean that having these diseases would preclude them from exercise. Instead a more targeted exercise program may need to be developed with the guidance of an Exercise Physiologist.

The American College of Sports Medicine has recommended the following guide for an exercise program:
• Initial stage 1-6 weeks: 15mins ; 3-4 x / week of moderate intensity exercise
• Improvement stage 4-8months: increasing duration and intensity as above
• Maintenance: Target achieved i.e. desired level of fitness.

Bearing in mind, the above is merely a guide and that an individual can reach any stage earlier if they plan their training well.

Back to Tabata training, Izumi Tabata, the Dean of Ritsumeikan University in Japan, developed the protocol after extensively researching the HIIT ( High intensity interval training) workout. HIIT was developed in the 1930s by a Swedish coach to train elite athletes which involved short 30 second bursts of high intensity training i.e. maximum heart rate (MHR) > 76 % for about 25-30minutes.

The Tabata protocol is a 4-minute workout involving repeat of a 20second period of supramaximal effort i.e. MHR > 90% followed by 10 seconds of rest. It is certainly not an easy feat, but it is a great way to increase caloric burn, elevate one's basal metabolic rate and increase EPOC (Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption) i.e. the afterburn effect. Most studies point to the EPOC effect lasting for at least 3 hours after a HIIT workout.
Other benefits include increasing post exercise fat burn out, lowering bad cholesterol, better utilisation of glucose by muscles, increasing the release of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which increases brain plasticity and also potentially slowing down ageing.

As with anything, moderation is key. There are potential risks with doing too much of HIIT ( more than 3x / week) as it does not allow for muscle recovery thus increasing risks of injury. Ideally, you do not want to spend more than 30-40minutes training at a MHR > 90% over a week.

Our body is our temple so we need to gradually build it up while being mindful and perceptive of the signals it gives us.

Tabata workoutHIITHigh-intensity interval trainingMetabolic rateFitness goals
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Dr Saveena Nithiananthan

Dr. Saveena Nithiananthan is a distinguished healthcare professional whose expertise extends across various domains within the medical field. With a background in General Practice and a wealth of experience, she serves as a beacon of knowledge and compassion in her role as a Medical Educator. Dr. Nithiananthan's commitment to promoting holistic well-being is further evidenced by her membership in the prestigious International Board of Lifestyle Medicine (IBLM), where she contributes to shaping global standards in health and wellness practices

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