Sparked by an age-old quest for the most efficient exercise regime comes new research that indicates that your workout may require less time than previously thought. Swallow your too-busy-for-exercise excuses and read up on some research that supports the benefits of high intensity interval training (HIIT).
High intensity interval training is characterized by intermittent periods of work and rest and may include bouts lasting seconds to minutes. Studies have shown that sessions of high-intensity exercise can be as effective, physiologically, as longer periods of prolonged endurance exercise.
Cracking the Exercise Code
A 2012 Florida Atlantic University study compared shorter duration HIIT to traditional longer duration endurance training for older adults. Basically, the study proved that the two different approaches offered similar health benefits.
Scientists at the McMaster University, Hamilton Ontario, also discovered that even a few minutes of exercise approaching one’s maximum capacity produces molecular changes within muscles comparable to several hours of traditional endurance training.
The important take-home message here is that getting in shape does not require a big time commitment.
How Exercise Slows Down Aging
Sure, your doctor chides you to get moving and perhaps your spouse nudges you to lace up your tennies and head to the gym, but do you know exactly why exercise is imperative as you age? The answers might surprise you.
As we grow older, our hearts beat more slowly and pump less blood. In turn, our lung capacity decreases. Why are these changes worrisome? Essentially, this systematic slow down results in decreased maximal oxygen consumption, which causes less oxygen to reach muscles. The decrease in muscle oxygen consumption is a prime reason why seniors slow down, grow weak and basically lose stamina.
When speed, strength and stamina ebb, we lose the ability to do the basic activities of independent, joyful living.
Now here’s the good news, a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that regular aerobic exercise could decrease biological age by 10 years or more. Another study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology explored the topic further and determined that one of the ways aerobic exercise decreases biological age is by improving mitochondria function. The mitochondria are responsible for essential energy production. Cells pump out more energy when the mitochondria are efficient.
To simplify this principle, consider when a person gets cut and new skin grows over the wound. If the wound heals quickly it is an indicator of good health. Conversely, slow healing indicates ill health or disease. This same principle can be applied across cells: where mitochondria function is improved, corporeal cells turn over, regenerate (where applicable) and function at a higher level for a longer time period.
In a nutshell, activity level correlates with improved mitochondria function. The more effort a person puts into exercise, the greater are the mitochondrial changes. This, in turn, leads to a bigger reduction in biological age over the life span.
Why Interval Training?
Exercise physiologists now believe that interval training (Wright and Perricelli 2008) is one of the most effective ways to exercise at a high enough intensity to significantly increase oxygen demands and ultimately slow aging. Again, interval training consists of short bursts of going all out followed by brief periods of recovery. However, it’s important to note that high intensity interval training does not have to be the type of high-impact aerobics that may cause injury, especially in older exercisers.
Interval Training for Baby Boomers and Beyond
However, because these studies don’t provide a specific exercise prescription or include important safety modifications, we enlisted the expertise of Dr. Norman Sussman, a Lake Tahoe chiropractor and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. Dr. Sussman specializes in interval training at Tahoe Kinetic.
Sussman says interval training isn’t the exclusive domain of elite athletes anymore. The popular Lake Tahoe-based chiropractor and personal trainer says anyone can benefit from HIIT with the appropriate modifications. However, he does encourage everyone to get a physician’s OK before embarking on a new exercise regime.
“The work to rest ratios are key to understanding this format and getting results,” Sussman explains. He advises clients to push hard during the work intervals, but within reason of the athlete’s capabilities.
“I want my clients to be huffing and puffing, but I want them to have something left in the tank if they are new to training and deconditioned,” Sussman says. “I encourage people to train for life not just a specific sport or activity.”
And forget about fancy machines or weights, Sussman says they aren’t necessary for success. The focus is on movement patterns so training consists of natural movements of multiple muscles and joints.
Also, he says one can also incorporate an interval aspect into a familiar exercise such as walking. For instance, you might alternate leisurely walking with periods of faster walking. For example, you could walk faster between certain mailboxes, trees, or other landmarks.
“Walking is totally appropriate as it is a nice exercise that can get the heart rate up and easy to throttle down (and up),” Sussman says. “As you can see it’s the principle of HIIT training that counts so the athlete can plug in exercises that are appropriate.”
A Game Plan For Success
Below Dr. Sussman offers a beginners guide to interval training. Work hard for 10-30 seconds, rest 10 seconds, and then repeat. Initially start with two exercises and repeat them alternately for four rounds. So, if one were to work hard for 20 seconds and rest for 10 seconds alternating 2 exercises for 4 rounds you could get started on this program in as little as 4 minutes!
Once acclimated, work 8-16 rounds per session. Select the modifications or challenge elements that are most appropriate and stick with them through the entire session. Here are four of Sussman’s favorite exercises that can be easily adapted to even the most “deconditioned athlete.”
1. Sit to Stand – Sit in a sturdy chair, stand up
Great for balance, gluts and hamstrings.
Push with hands against arms of chair and drive up to a standing.
Easier: Clench buttocks and legs and drive up to the point right before lift-off – not moving off the seat.
Harder: alternate arising on one foot with the other; lightly touch or no touch on the ground.
Coaching Point: Control descent without rushing or dropping. Keep elbows bent hands in front. Avoid putting hands on thighs or leaning way out to try to leverage movement.
2. Table Polish Press – You’ll need small dishtowels and a table.
Place fist or palm on top of a towel folded in half. Curl fingers and grip towel slack. Alternate a push and pull action of hands along table surface.
Easier: Two arms on 1 towel, reach out and back in a comfortable range that can be done quickly.
Harder: Alternate hands like a boxer punching; incorporate circular motions and double arm rotation side to side. Also, try a high surface, such as a bar top.
Coaching Point: Fluid motion without overreaching, no snapping or jerking motions. Also, maintain good seated or standing posture.
3. Cross Crawl March – Standing, raise knee with opposite hand swing, marching place.
Easier: Remain seated in chair, use only arms or legs.
Harder: Raise knees as high as you can go while maintaining balance, run in place.
Coaching Point: Keep gaze forward, shoulders back and down and relaxed. Maintain a natural athletic stance.
4. Side Step Lunge – Step sideways, step back to center, step sideways other side.
Easier: Decrease distance between feet and depth of lunge for stability. If balance is an issue, place a support – such as a chair – in front of you.
Harder: Increase the tempo of getting back to center.
Coaching Point: Arms flexed with hands in front, steadily step out to a full foot. Keep lower pelvis back with shoulders in line of flexed knee.
In the coming months, the Juvenon Health Journal will continue to feature research that will help you stay informed and healthy. By offering effective, all-natural supplements and health news you can use, Juvenon provides an essential toolkit to battle aging enemies.