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A growing number of studies point to the benefits of HIIT, or High-Intensity Interval Training. A study, published in 2014 in the journal PLOS One, highlights the benefits of shorter but intense spurts of exercise. Apps such as the 7 Minute Workout play to this trend. Essentially, all these results point to one trend—any activity, whether running, swimming or bounding up the stairs, done in an intense way, offers benefits similar to those you get when you exercise on a treadmill for 45 minutes. The catch is that it has to be intense. It has to hurt, as The New York Times health columnist Gretchen Reynolds says. The logic is that this was how our palaeolithic ancestors “exercised”. They ran away from threats in a life-or-death spurt of speed, following which they would normalize and take it easy. Animals still do this.
The good news is that we can incorporate the principles of HIIT by figuring out a way to exercise. For me, that is bounding up five flights of stairs, forcing myself to maintain the speed till I become breathless, till it hurts.
But what about situations where you cannot work out in this intense fashion? There are situations where you can do HIIT workouts and there are situations where you have to make do with mere activity. The point of this column, as you may have guessed, is to use “wasted” time to exercise. The idea is to think about working out in a different way; to do it between chores or when you cannot do anything else. Linking exercise to one place (the gym, yoga class, the park) has a benefit: You get to see good-looking people and exercise in high-intensity environments. But it is also limiting in that it lets you off the hook once you do that morning run or headstand. And how regular are you with that daily run anyway? Don’t answer that. You are probably one of those weird super-regular folks.
The trick for mere mortals like me is to figure out ways to keep ourselves active all the time. Grocery shopping is a case in point. You enter a shop to buy things, right? Wrong. You go in to stay active. When you reach down to pick out the noodles or pasta from the bottom shelf, squat instead of bending. When you want to pick out stuff from the top shelf, stand on tiptoe for 10 seconds, maybe 15. Stretch to reach for sachets of tea. When you are waiting at the bakery counter for your bread to be sliced, pull in your stomach; or do butt crunches. Tighten your butt. Hold for 15 seconds. Release. Repeat. Start with 10 times and then work your way up to 100 crunches each time. As long as you aren’t wearing tight jeans, nobody will know.
Talking on the telephone can also be “dead time”, which can be used to exercise. If you need to be sitting in your cubicle, at least lift some weights as you talk. If you need to be typing on your computer while on the phone, flex your feet or stretch them out under your table. Then draw circles with your toes.
The easiest thing to do, of course, is to walk. If you have a 1-hour conference call, get yourself some excellent headphones and walk around your office campus while on call. Climb some stairs.
My hope is that you will become like a Pavlovian dog. And the minute you get on the phone, your butt will crunch into a tight ball. Jennifer Lopez probably does this, which is why her posterior has gone viral.
Shoba Narayan squats while she talks on the phone. Write to her with your tips, tricks and short cuts. She blogs at Shobanarayan.com, tweets at @shobanarayan and Instagrams at #shobanarayan.