New research suggests that short bursts of exercise may be better than long drawn-out exercise classes in fighting obesity.
While for most, vigorous exercise means 20 miles of running or hours and hours of physically taxing workouts, scientists are now discovering that relatively short duration, high-intensity interval training is the key to long-term weight loss, sometimes regardless of diet.
Some gymgoers are tortoises. They prefer to take their sweet time, leisurely pedaling or ambling along on a treadmill. Others are hares, impatiently racing through miles at high intensity. The findings suggest that for at least one workout a week it pays to be both tortoise and hare — alternating short bursts of high-intensity exercise with easy-does-it recovery. This alternating fast-slow technique, called interval training, is hardly new. For decades, serious athletes have used it to improve performance. But a workout with steep peaks and valleys can dramatically improve cardiovascular fitness and raise the body’s potential to burn fat.
In one recent study of Scottish schoolkids, researchers found that those who did 30-second sprints interspersed with breaks for just a few minutes produced better results than youngsters exercising more moderately for 30 minutes.
The pupils were split into three groups of 25. One group carried out high intensity activity, exercising three times a week for four minutes, with 30 seconds of sprinting followed by 30 seconds of rest.
The next group carried out moderate activity, exercising three times a week for 30 minutes. The last control group just did their usual PE lessons.
At the start and end of the eight-week study, the researchers measured body fat, blood pressure, activity and agility as well as testing blood for signs of good cardiovascular health.
Baker said the short bursts of exercise appeared more effective at improving health.
"The high intensity exercise group exercised for about 80 percent less time," the Scotsman quoted him as saying.
"But this group improved more than the moderate intensity group.
There was significantly reduced blood pressure in the high intensity group than the other groups. The blood profiles were better and body fat went down in this group, too," he added.
A first-of-its-kind study in 2007 from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that people who maintain a vigorously active lifestyle as they age gain less weight than people who exercise at more moderate levels. The researchers tracked a large group of athletes who kept the same exercise regimen as they grew older and found that maintaining vigorous exercise programs with age is particularly effective in preventing extreme weight gain, which is associated with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and other diseases.
Reduces Breast Cancer Risk and Reduces Arthritis Disability
In a two-year study of more than 5,700 older adults with arthritis, researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago found that men and women who were consistently active were less likely to develop physical limitations that interfered with their day-to-day lives.
Adults who did not get regular, vigorous exercise -- which included nearly two-thirds of the study population -- had twice the risk of functional decline as their active peers, the researchers reported in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.
Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Cancer who investigated the link between breast cancer and exercise, found that post-menopausal women who engage in moderate to vigorous exercise have a reduced risk of breast cancer. Vigorous exercise has been hypothesized to reduce cancer risk for some time. However, this new study is one of the first prospective investigations to look at the importance of various intensities of exercise at different stages in an individual's life.
Over 110,000 post menopausal women were asked to rate their level of physical activity at ages 15-18, 19-29, 35-39, and in the past 10 years. It was found, over 6.6 years of follow up, that women who engaged in more than 7 hours per week of moderate-to-vigorous exercise for the last ten years were 16% less likely to develop breast cancer than those who were inactive. However, no link was observed between breast cancer risk and physical activity in women who were active at a younger age.