Exercise doesn’t have to be a long arduous task to be effective. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Twelve to 20 minutes of exercise a day is enough to lose fat, gain lean muscle mass, expand lung capacity and strengthen the heart.

Traditional exercise experts have always taught the importance of cardiovascular endurance training to achieve health benefits. New research is beginning to show that long endurance training can actually be detrimental to your health. Dr. Al Sears, who has done extensive research in the area of exercise, explains that routinely forcing your body to perform the same continuous cardiovascular challenge, by repeating the same movement, at the same rate, thousands of times over, without variation or rest, is unnatural.

This type of exercise forces the heart and lungs to actually downsize because smaller allows you to go further, more efficiently, with less rest and less fuel. So instead of building heart and lung strength, you are robbing these organs of vital reserve capacity. This is why it is not uncommon to hear of marathon runners dropping dead from heart failure in the middle of a race. Heart attacks don’t occur because they lack endurance. They occur when there is a sudden increase in cardiac demand that exceeds the heart’s capacity.

Aside from long endurance exercise decreasing lung and heart capacity, more studies are showing an increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides after long distance running. Moreover, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that long distance runners had reduced bone mass.

As if this isn’t enough, long endurance exercise isn’t even the best way to lose weight or burn fat. While exercising for more than 20 minutes at a time allows your body to burn fat – and you would think this is desirable – it also signals to the body that it needed the fat. This trains your body to make more fat for the next time you exercise. So your body becomes quite efficient at building and storing fat.

So now what?

Dr. Al Sears has written a book called PACE: Rediscover Your Native Fitness, that explains in detail how to exercise more effectively. His exercise regimen mainly consists of short duration, high intensity exercise followed by recovery periods; all of which can be done in a minimum of 12 minutes and a maximum of 20. PACE (which stands for Progressively Accelerating Cardiopulmonary Exertion) achieves exactly the opposite results of long duration exercise. It increases lung and heart capacity, it lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and helps you lose weight by burning fat after you exercise instead of storing it.

By exercising at higher intensities for shorter durations (where you’re actually panting or breathing hard), you create an oxygen debt, which signals to the lungs to expand. Because your body is demanding more oxygen, the heart adapts by increasing both it’s heart rate and stroke volume. This increased pumping power makes your heart stronger and last longer, significantly reducing your risk of heart attack.

As far as burning fat more efficiently, short bursts of exercise tell your body that storing fat is inefficient, since you’re never exercising long enough to utilize the fat during each session. Instead, your body burns the energy stored in the muscle tissue which teaches your body to store more energy in the muscles (not fat) so it’s available for quick burst of energy. When you stop exercising, your body automatically begins to burn fat to replace the carbohydrates you just burned. PACE turbo-charges your metabolism because you continue to burn fat up to a full day after you finish each PACE session! It needs to do this so your body can be replenished. After a few months of PACE, your body stops storing fat because it simply doesn’t need it.

Twin Study

Dr. Al Sear’s Wellness Research Foundation conducted a test with identical twins to demonstrate the effects of PACE exercise. The identical twins, age 18, had identical body composition, same fat percentage and lean muscle mass. One twin followed a PACE program of short duration, high intensity exercise while the other twin followed a traditional cardio program that began with running one mile and increased to 10 miles of non-stop running.

At the end of 16 weeks, the PACE twin went from 24.5% body fat to 10% body fat and lost a total of 18 pounds of fat. She also gained 9 pounds of lean muscle. The cardio twin went from 24.5% body fat to 19.5% body fat and lost a total of 8 pounds of fat but also lost 2 pounds of muscle.

Overall, the PACE twin lost 125% more fat and gained muscle, whereas the cardio twin actually lost muscle, didn’t lose nearly as much fat and worked twice as hard! Pretty impressive results.

Dr. Al Sears book contains in-depth information on this subject and explains in detail the benefits of PACE. He also has detailed workout programs to fit individual needs for both indoor/outdoor activities. The PACE program is very adaptable and can be incorporated into almost any activity.

Here is example of an 18 minute PACE program for fat burning:

Warm-up: 1 Minute
Exertion: 1 Minute
Recovery: 2 Minute

Exertion: 1 Minute
Recovery: 2 Minute

Exertion: 1 Minute
Recovery: 2 Minute

Exertion: 1 Minute
Recovery: 2 Minute

Exertion: 3 Minute
Recovery: 2 Minute
Rest… and burn fat