Obesity: New endurance training improves health and productivity

A study showed that 30 minutes a week of a new type of interval endurance can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in severely obese employees, and improve their quality of life.

Stay fit for work by exercising 30 minutes per week

A current study by the Hector Centre for Nutrition, Exercise, and Sport (Medical Clinic 1 for Gastroenterology, Pneumology, and Endocrinology, University Hospital Erlangen, Germany) shows that almost 30 minutes of physical activity per week in the form of a new type of interval endurance training can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in severely obese employees, and improve their work productivity and their quality of life.

Obesity, the most pronounced form of overweight, is associated with an increased risk of many secondary diseases - such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and certain forms of cancer. It has also been shown that obesity can lead to more frequent absenteeism from work as well as reduced work performance. A healthy diet adapted to patient needs and a sufficient level of regular physical activity is important cornerstones in the prevention and treatment of obesity. "In an environment characterized by increasing mechanization, however, very few working people now manage to take the generally recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week," explains Dr. Dejan Reljic, who headed the new study at the Hector Centre.

"Heavily overweight people are also often no longer able to carry out such an amount of activity due to physical limitations," adds Prof. Dr. Yurdag├╝l Zopf, head of the Hector Centre and spokesperson of the Obesity Centre at the University Hospital Erlangen (Germany). "One of our research focus areas is developing innovative movement concepts that are effective and bring health benefits on the one hand, but can also be achieved by patients with chronic diseases", says Dr. Reljic.

Two 14-minute sessions improve health

In the current study, 36 severely obese workers with an average body mass index of 40 kg/m2 underwent a novel, extremely efficient interval endurance training developed by Dr. Reljic twice a week, which lasts only 14 minutes per training session. In addition, the study participants received nutritional advice to support weight reduction. After the 12-week training phase, the study participants not only significantly reduced their body weight but also achieved astonishing improvements in cardiometabolic risk factors, for example, a reduction in systolic blood pressure by an average of 12 mmHg, as well as a clinically relevant increase in cardiovascular performance. In addition, at the end of the program, the test subjects reported significantly improved subjective work capacity and quality of life. 
"Even two 14-minutes sessions - i.e. almost 30 minutes of targeted exercise per week - paired with a healthier, calorie-reduced diet can make a decisive contribution to better health, greater well-being, and increased performance," summarised the study director.

Dr. Reljic and Prof. Zopf hope that these results will also help to motivate employers to invest more in health promotion programs through exercise and balanced nutrition in the future - especially for the risk groups among employees. Such measures need not be time-consuming, as the current study shows.

Reljic, D., Frenk, F., Herrmann, H.J. et al. Low-volume high-intensity interval training improves cardiometabolic health, work ability and well-being in severely obese individuals: a randomised-controlled trial sub-study. J Transl Med 18, 419 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12967-020-02592-6