How to make the most of your exercise time

It's not always quantity when it comes to workouts, but quality. Learn how to make the most of your fitness regimen with the following tips.

How to make the most of your exercise time

1. Increase your intensity, not your time

Forget hour-long spinning classes and eight-kilometre (five-mile) runs. A study from the exercise gurus at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, found that just six minutes of intense exercise a week could provide the same physical benefits as hours of moderate exercise. Now, by "intense exercise," we're not talking about a stroll in the park, and the six minutes were spread over three exercise sessions that also included some recovery time.

The researchers had their subjects do between four and seven 30-second "bursts" of all-out cycling on stationary bikes, each followed by four minutes of regular cycling three times a week for two weeks. (Another alternative would be full-out running for 30 seconds in the midst of a leisurely jog or walk.) All told, the time the "sprinters" spent exercising each week was 20 percent of the time spent by the moderate exercisers (1 1/4 hours versus 5 1/4 hours).

2. Weigh the benefits of free weights

The salespeople hawking enormous — and expensive — multi-exercise workout machines hope you don't catch on to this: inexpensive free weights actually offer a number of advantages in terms of fitness and convenience. When you use free weights, you can exercise both sides of your body separately, eliminating muscle imbalances. Only some exercise machines allow that.

If you have a slight body, the typical exercise machine — designed for men — may not fit you no matter how much you fiddle with the settings. If you like working out at home, you may have trouble working a gargantuan machine into the décor of your family room. Dumbbells, on the other hand, are compact, inexpensive and easy to use.

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