No time to exercise? No problem, says UBCO researcher

Low-volume, high-interval intensity training requires less than 15 minutes

As pandemic restrictions continue, many are looking for innovative ways to get regular exercise—especially as Zoom meetings seem to creep more into personal time.

UBC Okanagan researcher Jonathan Little, associate professor in the School of Health Exercise Sciences, suggests that low-volume, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) may be the solution.

His collaborative review, recently published in the Journal of Physiology, explains that this type of exercise can be effective and sometimes even better than traditional forms of aerobic training, such as jogging for 30 minutes or attending a cardio class.

Dr. Little, this year’s UBCO Health Researcher of the Year, describes the difference between low- and high-volume HIIT and offers advice about getting into an exercise groove.

What is low-volume HIIT?

High-intensity interval training involves repeated short bursts of strenuous activity, where people reach 80 to 100 per cent of their predicted maximum heart rate, separated by periods of rest. The difference between high and low-volume HIIT is the time spent being active. For low-volume HIIT this is less than 15 minutes and for high-volume HIIT, it is more than 15 minutes. Low-volume HIIT is becoming increasingly more popular, but it is unclear how well it works, especially for improving cardiovascular and metabolic health. In our recent study, we looked at numerous studies and summarized the findings to date.

What is the current opinion about low-volume HIIT?

Our review of the available studies indicates that low-volume HIIT leads to similar and sometimes greater improvements in metabolic disorders like Type 2 diabetes as well as heart function  — we tend to group these conditions together and call this cardiometabolic health — when compared to moderate aerobic activity. This makes it even more appealing than high-volume HIIT because it takes less effort and time.

When compared to traditional aerobic exercise, what specifically improved in low-volume HIIT participants?

The findings from recent clinical trials indicate that low-volume HIIT can induce improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness, glucose control, blood pressure and cardiac function. It also appears that low-volume HIIT is safe and well-tolerated in adults.

How do participants feel about HIIT?

Most of us know that physical activity is considered the cornerstone for the management of cardiometabolic health and regular exercise improves a wide array of conditions from obesity to mental health and mood disorders. However, exercise adoption and adherence continue to be a challenge for many people and they often say that lack of time is a barrier. Low-volume HIIT is certainly time efficient and this may explain why individuals have reported enjoying the exercise, and possibly stick to it longer than traditional aerobic activities.

What is your best advice about exercise?

The first step in any new exercise routine is to get the green light from your physician. Remember that every bout of exercise counts—when you exercise today it improves your metabolic functioning immediately and the benefits last into the next day. Keep in mind there is no magic pill. Exercise impacts almost every organ and organ system in our body in an integrative fashion. There will never be a pill to replace all the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Finally, the optimal strategy for you is one that you enjoy and can stick to.

What is the next step for your research?

I am part of a cross-disciplinary team at UBC who, along with colleagues at Liverpool John Moores University, is conducting a study to identify effective methods to help people with Type 2 diabetes increase and maintain exercise and physical activity levels long term. Called Motivate T2D, this six-month home-based exercise study will pair participants with an exercise specialist, who will guide them through a personalized exercise prescription using virtual counselling. It’s a completely remote clinical trial so is available to anybody from across Canada who has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes within the last 24 months. For more information, you can visit

To find out more about Dr. Little’s research, visit:

UBC Okanagan’s 2021 Health Researcher of the Year Jonathan Little.

UBC Okanagan’s 2021 Health Researcher of the Year Jonathan Little.

About UBC’s Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: