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Book review

Fast Exercise

A quicker and more effective way to exercise?

‘Fast exercise’, by Michael Mosley and Peta Bee. Pp 207. Price £7.99. London: Short book; 2013. ISBN 978 1 78072 198 9

‘Fast exercise’, by Michael Mosley and Peta Bee. Pp 207. Price £7.99. London: Short book; 2013. ISBN 978 1 78072 198 9

If, like me, you thought that exercise will help you shed weight then think again. As the authors of this new book describe, out of all the benefits from exercise, weight loss is not one of them. This is partly due to the fact that exercise does not actually burn many additional calories compared with lying around on the sofa.

This is illustrated rather nicely with a table showing the number of calories in a range of foods and how far someone would have to run to burn off those calories. For example, a banana might only contain 90 calories but would require someone to run 1.1 miles just to burn off those calories. To make matters worse, exercise also makes you want to eat, which negates the benefits of burning additional calories.

So is it really worth exercising? “Definitely”, say the authors, who outline the enormous health benefits from exercise and note that one of the biggest predictors of mortality is aerobic fitness, so that a fit but overweight person is just as likely to die as a normal weight fit person. Nevertheless, a major barrier to taking up exercise is lack of time — too busy at work, home, etc.

But what if there was an alternative to spending hours every week at the gym? What if you could complete your exercise routine in a matter of minutes? Enter high-intensity interval training (HIT) hence the “fast” in the title of the book. HIT, as the name suggest, involves short bursts of all-out effort albeit for a short period, usually no longer than 30 seconds. HIT can be done on a stationary exercise bike and involves a gentle warm up of about three minutes, followed by cycling as fast as possible for 20 seconds, a few minutes’ rest and the process is repeated twice. This regimen is conducted three times a week and therefore only involves a total of three minutes of exercise.

Although it sounds too good to be true the authors provide a succinct outline of the research and references demonstrating how HIT improves insulin sensitivity and cardiovascular health, reduces abdominal fat and appears to diminish appetite, at least in the short term.

One caveat with both HIT and general aerobic exercise worthy of mention is that the extent to which an individual responds to exercise (ie, the improvement in aerobic fitness) depends to a large degree on genes. Using HIT might not turn you into a super athlete but you might see other improvements.

The book goes on to describe several practical ways to undertake a HIT workout in addition to what they have termed “fast strength” because it is equally important to develop strength in the major muscle groups. There are several useful tips on when to exercise and how to keep motivated.
This is great little book that would be a useful aid for pharmacists wanting to motivate patients wishing to take up exercise but who do not have the time or do not want to join a gym.

As someone who has practised HIT for over two years I can attest to its benefits. It is very hard going but is quickly over and you do not even break into a sweat. Now what could be better for those who want to lose fat and stay healthy but do not enjoy exercise?

‘Fast exercise’, by Michael Mosley and Peta Bee. Pp 207. Price £7.99. London: Short book; 2013. ISBN 978 1 78072 198 9 

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.11137499

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