I recently read an article that had me a bit skeptical, as the headline was “Six seconds of exercise can transform health.” But this wasn’t a fly-by-night website, it was the BBC! The article is about research team in Scotland who studied a group of elderly people doing high intensity interval training (HIIT), which is an exercise regime that involves incredibly short but strenuous bursts of energy and recovery periods in between. They found that the subjects lowered blood pressure a bit and reported that they noticed everyday activities (walking the dog, getting out of a chair) seemed easier.

So can 6 seconds of exercise really change your health? Could that possibly be true? If so, sign me up!

Let’s pick apart the study findings from the headline. First of all, the researchers only studied 12 people, which is a very small sample size. Also, while the HIIT intervals started at 6 seconds apiece, the subjects moved up to doing the high intensity parts for a minute at a time. That is, that when they first began the experiment they would go all-out on an exercise bike for 6 second periods and then recover before going again. But they worked the 6 second periods up to 60 second periods over the course of the six weeks. Finally, because some of the measures of daily life changes were self-reported it is hard to know if the exercise affected them or had a placebo effect.

All in all, this is a case of sensational headlines that don’t really measure up to the actual findings of the research. The bottom line is that HIIT shows promise for healthy aging but more studies need to be done–and that 6 seconds is by no means a magic number for interval training.