Only 23% of U.S. adults get enough exercise per week, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The biggest barrier? Not having enough time—at least, that’s what a survey from One Poll and Freeletics found in 2019. When you’re juggling work, parenting responsibilities, chores, and everything else #adulting demands, who has 2 hours to spare for the gym?
Well, good news: You can actually get a pretty decent workout in just seven minutes if you do it right. Specifically, if you prioritize high-intensity interval training, aka HIIT exercises. These exercises are defined by short periods of intense movement broken up by recovery periods. Think of it as pushing your body to the limit for short bursts over and over again—which forces it to adapt and recover quickly on a cellular level.
“By pushing ourselves to 90-100% of our max heart rate in the high intensity intervals, we are working anaerobically, which means our body is producing energy without oxygen and will create a greater oxygen deficit and require our bodies to work harder and continue to burn more calories post workout in order to recover,” Alissa Tucker, a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer, previously told ETNT.
Interval training has been a staple of elite athletes’ workouts for decades. But it was only recently that HIIT became a part of regular fitness buffs’ training, when the New York Times released its famous 7-Minute Workout in 2013, based on research and recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal.
Curious about what just seven minutes of HIIT everyday can do for your health? Here’s what research says. And don’t miss New Study Reveals a Life-Altering Effect of Exercising with Others.
Extensive research shows that HIIT specifically improves your VO2 max, aka the maximum amount of oxygen your body uses during exercise. A 2013 review of studies in PLOS One found that high-intensity interval training could improve a person’s VO2 max. Longer intervals provided significant improvements, the study also found. Another small 2014 PLOS One study found that adding three 20-second intervals of intense cycling to the end of a 10-minute exercise session, three times a week, improved the VO2 max and fitness of participants. HIIT can even improve VO2 max for people with existing heart issues, per a 2014 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Why does this matter? Your VO2 max is a key indicator of heart health—it reveals how efficiently the organ pumps blood and oxygen to the rest of the body. Improving your VO2 max could lead to a longer life and less risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a 2019 study in the journal Preventive Medicine. Read more: What Can Happen To Your Body If You Don’t Exercise.
Experts have shared with ETNT Mind+Body in the past that HIIT is one of the best ways to burn fat quickly. “HIIT is an extremely effective and efficient form of exercise, elevating your heart rate quickly and burning a significant amount of calories in a short amount of time,” Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, CISSN, an exercise physiologist and author of The Micro-Workout Plan: Get the Body You Want without the Gym in 15 Minutes or Less a Day, previously told ETNT. Indeed, a 2019 review of studies in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that HIIT leads to 28.5% greater total fat loss than moderate-intensity continuous training. Most studies showing fat loss benefits of HIIT have people exercising for longer periods at a time, but seven minutes is surely better than nothing. Read more: This One Exercise Melts Fat Faster Than Any Other, Says Science.
While strength training is generally considered the gold standard of building muscle, Holly Perkins, CSCS, told Self that you can improve your muscle endurance—the ability to keep using muscles against resistance for a period of time—with a short HIIT routine like the 7-Minute Workout. Some research shows that HIIT might also improve muscle power, but this was only in elite male athletes. For more workout tips, check out: Do This Simple 10-Minute Workout for a Lean Body Fast, Says Trainer.
HIIT has lots of benefits, even when you’re doing a short, seven-minute session. However, it’s not a workout that you should necessarily be doing every single day without breaks. (Most studies have people doing HIIT just a few times a week, not every day.) HIIT is incredibly intense on the body, and most experts only recommend doing it a few times a week. Otherwise, you risk overtraining, injuries, disrupted sleep, and more. Seven minutes of HIIT every single day might be OK for some people, but listen to your body to know what’s right for you.