Who has time for one to two hours at the gym six days a week? Thankfully, more and more research has shown that exercising for just a couple of minutes can be just as beneficial. A recent study conducted at the University of Exeter has found that a few minutes of intense physical activity before eating a meal high in fat can help improve blood vessel function in young people.

"Our study shows that the intensity of exercise plays an important part in protecting blood vessel function in young people after the ingestion of a high fat meal." Dr. Alan Barker, from the Children's Health and Exercise Research Centre, Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter, said in a statement. "Furthermore, both the boys and girls found the high-intensity exercise to be more enjoyable than the moderate-intensity exercise."

Barker and his colleague recruited 20 adolescents — 10 male and 10 female — to examine what effect exercise before a fatty meal has on impairment in blood vessel function. Participants were asked to perform high-intensity, interval exercise or moderate-intensity exercise before consuming a high-fat milkshake. Impairment in blood vessel function is often considered the earliest event in the process that underlies heart disease.

Although adolescents who participated in around 25 minutes of moderate-intensity cycling were able to prevent a fall in blood vessel function after their high-fat meal, more intense exercise for a shorter period of time was more effective. In fact, those was participated in eight minutes of high-intensity cycling not only prevented a drop in blood vessel function, but also improved overall blood vessel function.

“Considering that very few adolescents currently achieve the recommended minimum of one hour of at least moderate-intensity exercise per day, smaller amounts of exercise performed at a higher-intensity might offer an attractive alternative to improve blood vessel function in adolescents," Barker added.

Another study conducted at the Scottish Abertay University found similar benefits among elderly people who performed even six-second bursts of high-intensity exercise. Researchers asked 12 older adults to participate in six seconds of cycling as hard as they can go twice a week for six weeks. After six weeks, blood pressure readings from each elderly participant had reduced by an average of nine percent. Participants also reported having an easier time walking or getting out of a chair.

Source: Bond B Gates P, Barker A, et al. Exercise intensity and the protection from postprandial vascular dysfunction in adolescents. American Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology. 2015.