Why Am I Saying This?
It seems according to recent research that you really don’t need to do that much exercise to keep your body in good shape – particularly if you are getting a bit older! That makes me very happy – but is it just more nonsense?
A study published March 7 in Cell Metabolism found that exercise — and in particular high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in aerobic exercises such as biking and walking — caused cells to make more proteins to supply their mitochondria (which produce energy in a cell) and their protein-building ribosomes, which stop ageing at the cellular level.
“Based on everything we know, there’s no substitute for these exercise programs when it comes to delaying the aging process,” said study senior author Sreekumaran Nair, a medical doctor and diabetes researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “These things we are seeing cannot be done by any medicine.”
The study enrolled 36 men and 36 women from two age groups — “young” volunteers who were 18-30 years old and “older” volunteers who were 65-80 years old — into three different exercise programs: one where the volunteers did high-intensity interval biking, one where the volunteers did strength training with weights, and one that combined strength training and interval training. Then the researchers took biopsies from the volunteers’ thigh muscles and compared the molecular makeup of their muscle cells to samples from sedentary volunteers. The researchers also assessed the volunteers’ amount of lean muscle mass and insulin sensitivity.
They found that while strength training was effective at building muscle mass, high-intensity interval training yielded the biggest benefits at the cellular level.
The younger volunteers in the interval training group saw a 49% increase in mitochondrial capacity, but the older volunteers saw an even more dramatic 69% increase.
Interval training also improved volunteers’ insulin sensitivity, which indicates a lower likelihood of developing diabetes.
However, interval training was less effective at improving muscle strength, which typically declines with ageing. “If people have to pick one exercise, I would recommend high-intensity interval training, but I think it would be more beneficial if they could do 3-4 days of interval training and then a couple days of strength training,” says Nair. But the bottom line of this research was that ANY exercise Is better than no exercise, which I have been saying for years.
The researcher, Nair set out to understand how exercise helps at the molecular level because as we age, the energy-generating capacity of our cells’ mitochondria slowly decreases. He found evidence that exercise encourages the cell to make more of the proteins responsible for muscle growth. Exercise also appeared to boost the cells’ ability to build mitochondrial proteins.
The most impressive finding was that in some cases, the high-intensity biking regimen actually seemed to reverse the age-related decline in mitochondrial function and proteins needed for muscle building. How amazing is that?!
The high-intensity biking regimen also rejuvenated the chemicals that produce our cells’ protein building blocks. It seems that exercise can actually transform the parts of our cells to make more of these protein building blocks and therefore more muscle that are composed of protein and that could explain why exercise benefits our health in so many different ways.
Muscle is somewhat unique because muscle cells only rarely reproduce. They wear out with age but they are not replaced easily and function in muscle cells is known to reduce with age. Nair said that “Unlike liver, muscle is not readily regrown. The cells can accumulate a lot of damage.” It is exciting however if short bursts of exercise can actually restore or prevent deterioration of mitochondria and ribosomes in muscle cells..
Nair and his colleagues hope to find out more about how exercise benefits different tissues throughout the body. They are also looking into ways that clinicians may be able to target the pathways that confer the most benefits.
However, for the time being, vigorous exercise remains the most effective way to bolster health. “There are substantial basic science data to support the idea that exercise is critically important to prevent or delay ageing,” says Nair. “There’s no substitute for that.”
Taken from the following reference:
Matthew M. Robinson, Surendra Dasari, Adam R. Konopka, Matthew L. Johnson, S. Manjunatha, Raul Ruiz Esponda, Rickey E. Carter, Ian R. Lanza, K. Sreekumaran Nair. Enhanced Protein Translation Underlies Improved Metabolic and Physical Adaptations to Different Exercise Training Modes in Young and Old Humans. Cell Metabolism, 2017; 25 (3): 581 DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2017.02.009
What IS HIIT?
But what exactly is HIIT and how do we go about it? You may have done it yourself, for instance on a minor scale, if you charged up and down the stairs at home, because HIIT involves short bursts of very intense activity, followed by recovery periods of low- intensity exercise.
But of course to get the full benefits of any proper exercise programme involves having application and discipline.
“High-intensity interval training, is a training technique in which you give all-out, 100% effort through quick, intense bursts of exercise, followed by short, sometimes active, recovery periods,” says Fidelma Conlon, director at Ireland’s National Training Centre (NTC).
“This type of training raises and keeps your heart rate up and requires more energy. After you have warmed up, it is about working as hard as you can for short periods of time, resting, and then working again and repeating this cycle from 10mins to 30 minutes.”
But before you rush out to the garden to do some frantic laps, in the hope of turning back the clock, let’s take a deep breath first.
“While high-intensity training has been shown to provide great benefits in reducing the effects of ageing, it will not suit everyone for a variety of reasons, involving a person’s current health and fitness,” Fidelma cautions.
“We at the NTC recommend that everyone over 50 should have an annual health check with their GP. Some people for instance have a fear that high-intensity training may evoke a heart attack or stroke.
“Exercise itself does not cause the arterial or cardiac damage that may pre-dispose a person to the risk of a heart attack, but even the fittest people in the world can suffer heart issues and that is why we recommend an annual check-up.”
Aside from that, she also points out the importance of a properly trained instructor who sees to your individual needs and does not have a “one fits all” approach to your workout.
“As one gets older, warming up is more important than ever, especially if it’s a high-intensity class or workout, to ensure the physiological changes are gradual, to allow the body to cope with the intensity to follow in a safe manner. And then cooling down is also equally important to help the body return to its normal restating state.”
This all helps reduce the risk of injury and ensure the overall training is safe, effective and appropriate, which should be the norm for any form of exercise.
But once we are confident on our own, in our routine, how do we know if our exercise is intense enough?
Fidelma suggests doing The Talk Test: “If you’re working at a high intensity level where you are exerting yourself to your maximum effort you should be breathless and only able to say a few words at a time.”
Another guide is to measure your heart rate: “For this method, you can calculate your target heart rate zone and use a heart rate monitor to track your heart rate. To work at a high intensity, you would stay between 75-90% of your maximum heart rate.
“Many people enjoy the idea of wearing a heart rate monitor where you can actually set your training heart rate zones which will determine whether you are working hard enough or not.”
Here are some examples of HIIT you can do yourself:
Walk / Jog / Run (1 : 1)
As a beginner start with walking at a medium pace for 1 minute and jog /run for 1 minute — repeat the same cycle for 10 minutes and work up to 20 mins.
If you’ve a good level of fitness and are used to jogging, you can jog at a moderate pace for 1 minute and sprint for 1 minute.
When sprinting, exert yourself to your maximum and then recover for 1 minute.
Repeat the sequence for 10 minutes and work up to 20 minutes.
Stair Climbing (1 : 1)
Run up and down the stairs for 20 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds. Repeat this cycle for 10 minutes.
This 10-minute workout could be performed 2 – 3 times over the day (10 mins morning, 10 mins lunchtime, 10 mins evening).
It offers even greater benefits than going on a steady walk or jog for 30 minutes.